LISTEN ONLINE: Leaked White House infrastructure plan shows tolls playing role in funding

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, January 23, 2018

An outline of the White House’s infrastructure plan has leaked, giving the public a better idea of what may be in store for future legislation. The rough plan relies on federal grants for a large portion of the programs and allows more flexibility to toll interstates.

On Monday, news website Axios published what it says is a leaked draft outline of Trump’s infrastructure plan. The six-page document addresses funding and principles for improvements. Axios reported that the White House would not comment on the document except for it looks “forward to presenting our plan in the near future.”

Although the draft includes the percentage of total allocation for proposed programs, the document is missing one major component: the price tag. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration was aiming for $200 billion in federal government spending, which in turn will lead to approximately $1 trillion in state, local and private spending. There is no mention of any fuel tax increase either.

Half of the total appropriation in the draft will go to an Infrastructure Incentives Initiative, which encourages state, local and private investment through grants. Grant awards cannot exceed 20 percent of the total project cost, and no individual state can receive more than 10 percent of the amount available.

Approximately a quarter of total appropriation is reserved for a Rural Infrastructure Program. Under this plan, investment will be encouraged “to enable rural economies, facilitate freight movement, improve access to reliable and affordable transportation.” Both local and private investment will be incentivized to complete and operate the projects.

Another 10 percent of total appropriated goes to a Transformative Projects Program. Funding in this category will go to “innovative and transformative infrastructure projects” that are competitive and viable but cannot obtain private financing “due to the uniqueness of the program.” About 80 percent of these funds will be provided to states considering the ratio based on total rural lane miles in a state in relation to total rural lane miles in all states as well as ration of rural population. The remaining 20 percent will go towards rural performance grants.

A Federal Credit Program will receive 7.05 percent of total appropriation. This program will increase the capacity of existing federal lending programs to increase investment.

One source of funding that is not mentioned is an increase in the fuel tax. Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of Natso, told Land Line Now that a fuel tax increase would be a more equitable solution than tolls or commercialization of rest areas.

“What we’ve heard on the Hill many times when we talk about a fuel tax is that it’s just not politically palatable, but I think we have so many groups now, including the entire trucking industry that pays a substantial amount of money in fuel taxes, saying ‘Increase my taxes,’” Mullings said. “How often does that happen?”

Infrastructure improvements
When it comes to transportation financing, the draft mentions tolls twice. One provision will allows states flexibility to toll on interstates and reinvest toll revenues in infrastructure. Another provision will reconcile grandfathered restrictions on use of highway toll revenues with current law. Stephanie Kane, spokeswoman for Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, called these provisions “a complete reversal of the current federal ban on tolling existing interstates.”

“The current Trump plan could result in a patchwork of tolls that span coast to coast,” Kane said in a statement. “This plan is not innovative or good policy – it is simply a nationwide plan for #TrumpTolls. There is a real opportunity for a long-term solution to our transportation infrastructure needs, but it shouldn’t include tolling our interstates.”

The draft also calls to raise the cost threshold for major project requirements to $1 billion. Small highway projects will get relief from the same federal requirements as major projects.

Collin Long, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, gave Land Line Now some more insight from Washington, D.C.:



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