By Mark Ruge and Laurie Purpuro, K&L Gates
President Donald J. Trump enters office with a series of sweeping proposals. But few could have more impact across the Midwest than his plans for a massive transportation infrastructure bill.
Congressional leaders now say that work on the legislation could begin soon and come together sometime this summer or fall. Federal leaders as diverse as Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) have endorsed the legislation as necessary to address America’s aging infrastructure.
As always with mega bills like this one — Trump has predicted the overall plan could total $1 trillion — the devil is in the details and particularly the funding details. So far Administration officials are forecasting a mix of private investment and public funding to finance the infrastructure investment. Speaking at her confirmation hearing, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao emphasized public-private partnerships. “In order to take full advantage of the estimated trillions in capital that equity firms, pension funds and endowments can invest, these partnerships must be incentivized with a bold, new vision.”
The Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition (GLMCC), a group of about 40 chambers around the Midwest, lists transportation infrastructure among the organization’s top priorities in 2017, according to Brad Williams, the GLMCC’s executive director and vice president of government affairs for the Detroit Regional Chamber. In some instances, the group supports authority for tolling as an example of a public-private partnership.
Virtually every recent study has emphasized the decrepit state of America’s roads, bridges and waterway infrastructure. As the need for investment has increased, the revenues from the federal gas tax, the principle funding source for improvements, has continued to decline. Clearly, innovative approaches to financing are necessary.
The growing interest in transportation infrastructure legislation comes on the heels of the release of a study by the U.S. Department of Treasury listing 40 transportation “megaprojects” that collectively would cost $334 billion but could bring $1.3 trillion in economic benefits. That list includes seven Midwest projects, including modernization of the Soo Locks, used by massive vessels that efficiently carry raw materials from Lake Superior to the steel mills and other users to the south; Chicago CREATE, to improve passenger and cargo rail in and around the Midwest’s largest city; the Brent Spence Bridge, which carries large volumes of traffic between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati and beyond; and the I-35 Trade Corridor, a highway upgrade that would stretch from Minnesota to Texas.
And those are just the megaprojects that could be assisted as part of an infrastructure bill. If history holds, a transportation bill of the type proposed by the new president could impact thousands of projects touching every state. Adding to the potential economic benefit, Trump has promised heavy reliance on American workers and companies to build the projects.
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Ruge and Purpuro are part of the team from K&L Gates that represents GLMCC in Washington, D.C. on public policy issues.