After a taking a back seat to other policies, including health care, tax reform and immigration, President Donald Trump has finally released his infrastructure plan. Although it mirrors much of what was contained in the leaked outline, the official plan provides more details and a section dedicated to workers in skilled trades.
The “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” plan released by the White House on Monday is broken into four parts: funding/financing, additional provisions, permitting improvement and workforce development.
According to the official document, the plan is expected to stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in new investment over 10 years. Certain provisions will shorten the process for approving projects to two years or less. The plan also will address “unmet rural infrastructure needs.” Furthermore, state and local governments will be delegated more authority. With all that building, the final section addresses training the American workforce of the future.
Funding and financing infrastructure improvements
As noted in previous documents, the federal government will rely on state/local governments and private investment to lead the way. A total of $200 billion in federal funding will be allocated to five separate infrastructure programs.
Accounting for half the funding at $100 billion, a new program called the Incentives Program will be established. Essentially, this will encourage states to initiate projects that will draw money from sources other than the federal government while being held accountable for hitting specific, measurable milestones.
With applications accepted every six months, applicants must consider six evaluation criteria. Nearly three-quarters of the weight of the application is based on taking the federal government off the hook for maintenance costs and future infrastructure funding:
- Include supporting evidence showing how a project will secure new, nonfederal revenue to create sustainable, long-term funding for infrastructure investments (weighted at 50 percent);
- Include supporting evidence showing how a project will secure new, nonfederal revenue for operations, maintenance and rehabilitation (weighted at 20 percent);
- Dollar value (weighted at 10 percent);
- Updates to procurement policies and project delivery approaches (weighted at 10 percent);
- Evidence of spurring economic and social returns (weighted at 5 percent); and
- Plans to incorporate new or evolving technology (weighted at 5 percent).
A single state cannot receive more than 10 percent of the total funds available, ensuring that larger states do not dry up funding before smaller states get a slice of the pie. Additionally, any milestone left incomplete after two years will be voided unless good cause to complete the milestone is exhibited. Money left over as a result will be reallocated to other applicants’ projects.
Keeping his promise to a large portion of his base – rural voters – Trump’s plan includes the Rural Infrastructure Program. According to the plan, this will “spur prosperous rural economies, facilitate freight movement, improve access to reliable and affordable transportation options, and enhance health and safety for residents and businesses.”
A quarter of the funding, or $50 billion, will be split between states and rural grants. State governors will get 80 percent of the money for local distribution. This is consistent with the Trump administration’s notion that state and local governments know best as opposed to the federal government. The remaining 20 percent will be reserved for rural performance grants, which will be available up to 10 years after enactment or until funds dry up.
“Rural communities” include areas with a population of less than 50,000 people. The program will expand access to markets, customers and employment opportunities with projects that sustain and grow business revenue and personal income for rural Americans.
The Transformative Projects Program will be allotted $20 billion and provide federal funding and technical assistance for “bold, innovative, and transformative infrastructure projects that could dramatically improve infrastructure.” Funding will be based on the likelihood of being commercially viable.
With the Department of Commerce taking the lead on the Transformative Projects Program, the program encourages “ambitious, exploratory, and ground-breaking project ideas” that would otherwise be too risky than most projects, but with the potential for a larger reward.
Another $20 billion will go toward the Infrastructure Financing Programs, which will expand existing programs. More specifically, $14 billion will go to existing credit programs, with the remaining $6 billion for expansion of private activity bonds. This program will expand funding and/or broaden eligibility for Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act funding.
The remaining $10 billion of the total $200 billion federal funding is reserved for the Federal Capital Financing Fund, which is used when a federal agency purchases property.
Money for maintenance needs of infrastructure managed by the Department of Interior, including approximately 100,000 miles of roads, plus bridges, dams, etc., will also become available. The National Park Service is experiencing an $11.3 billion maintenance backlog, and there is a $1.2 billion backlog for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Approximately $18 billion of revenues generated from energy development on public lands will be reallocated to these needs.
Additional provisions for infrastructure improvements
Provision under this section will incentivize and remove barriers to the development and improvement of transportation infrastructure, and may prove to be the most controversial among many transportation stakeholders.
One provision allows states more flexibility in tolling.
“Tolls are a wildly inefficient tax, sacrificing money that could go toward construction to corporate profits and administrative costs,” said Stephanie Kane, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates. “In addition to the diversion onto secondary roads, which causes congestion and public safety issues, tolls will do unimaginable harm to businesses, as shipping and manufacturing prices skyrocket to account for these new costs. This plan is not innovative or good policy – it is simply a nationwide plan for #TrumpTolls.”
Trump’s plan also calls for more flexibility to commercialize interstate rest areas. Recently, Natso, a professional association of independent truck stops, released a study suggesting commercializing public rest areas will reduce truck parking spaces.
“We urge the President to reverse his support for rest area commercialization,” Natso President and CEO Lisa Mullings said in a statement. “Commercialization allows the government to hand-pick one company to operate exclusively at the state rest areas. This company behaves as a monopoly simply by virtue of its location on the highway shoulder or median.”
Other provisions will get rid of federal approval for projects where state and/or private investment provides the majority of funding and the project is mostly nonfederal, further stripping the federal government of its authority in infrastructure.
Infrastructure permitting streamlined
President Trump has been a critic of the permit process necessary for building. His infrastructure plan will create an expedited structure for environmental reviews while giving states more decision-making. Essentially, Trump will be reducing the amount of hands in the proverbial cookie jar.
If signed into law, the plan will include a “one agency, one decision” environmental review structure. Current policy requires multiple agencies involved in environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and permitting processes. A provision will require a single federal environmental review document, eliminating delays and confusion caused by duplication.
Under the proposal, a firm deadline of 21 months will be established to complete reviews. A firm deadline of three months after a finding of no significant impact or record of decision will be installed to make decisions regarding permits. Projects that could actually enhance the environment will be streamlined to encourage such outcomes.
Right now, only the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration have the authority to assign NEPA responsibilities to states. If Trump has his way, other agencies will be allowed to do the same, giving states more opportunities to take over.
Another provision will give the states even more power over the federal government by allowing them to take over FHWA’s responsibility of approving right-of-way acquisitions. However, the U.S Department of Transportation can terminate this privilege if a state improperly carries out this responsibility.
Trump will also prevent those opposing projects to use the courts as a weapon. One provision calls for judicial reform. The provision will limit injunctive relief to “exceptional circumstances” in legal challenges to projects under NEPA. Also, the plan will reduce the statute of limitations for legal challenges to federal permitting and authorization decisions from two to six years to 150 days.
This section is designed to help Americans secure stable, well-paying jobs. According to the plan, “an infrastructure bill will generate new projects that directly increase employment in the construction industry, as well as boost the demand for labor more broadly as additional infrastructure investment spurs economic growth.”
Currently, Pell Grants are for students who do not yet have a bachelor’s degree and enrolled in institutions of higher education offering degree programs of at least 600 clock hours or 15 weeks in length. They do not include shorter-term certifications, including skilled trades and apprenticeship programs. This provision makes such programs eligible for Pell Grants.
The plan will also reform the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program by directing more funding to high schools, expand apprenticeships and strengthening the bill’s emphasis on the use of evidence-based research.
Lastly, states accepting federal funding for infrastructure projects do not allow workers with out-of-state skilled trade licenses to work on those projects. A provision will require states to accept workers with out-of-state licenses to work on those projects.
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