Friday, December 16, 2016

Infrastructure Needs To Challenge Secretary Designee Chao

Shepherding President Elect Trump’s promised ten year $1 trillion infrastructure construction program through a deficit shy and spending averse Congress will be the biggest challenge faces by Trump’s Transportation Secretary Designee Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. While Chao’s past experiences as Secretary of Labor and Deputy Secretary of Transportation, as well as her service on the boards of directors of construction giants Parsons and Vulcan Materials give her a depth of understanding of infrastructure and politics not often combined in the cabinet job she is designated to hold, bridging the gap between anticipated federal transportation revenue streams and the projected cost of the nation’s infrastructure construction and repair needs will likely be her greatest obstacle.

According to a recent joint study by the American Association of State Transportation Officials and the American Association of Port Authorities, American freight infrastructure alone needs investment of nearly $258 billion. Getting Congressional approval of the motor fuel tax increases, proposed $137 billion in tax credits to spur private-public partnership investment in toll roads and other revenue generating projects, in addition to the $10.3 billion Congress just approved for water resources infrastructure, and the continuing resolution freezing Highway Trust fund spending at 2016 levels could be an insurmountable hurdle, even for Chao.

House Democratic leaders, including House Transportation Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), have been quick to point out the schizophrenic nature of the Congressional Republican response to President Elect Trump’s promises of substantially larger, and construction job cresting, infrastructure investments by the federal government: “Looks like House Republicans missed the memo from President Elect Trump on boosting transportation infrastructure investment. Instead of carrying out the promise of rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges and transit systems,” DeFazio said, “the Continuing Resolution ignores the FAST Act transportation funding levels that were approved a year ago, resulting in a $2.4 billion reduction in transportation investment, which will impact next Spring’s construction season. … House Republicans like to talk about this ‘big league’ trillion dollar transportation plan they supposedly want to pass. Cuts like these make you question whether they are serious about it.”

The negative impact of federal appropriations significantly below the levels promised in last year’s FAST Act is already being felt in state capitals like Topeka, where Kansas DOT put 10 more highway construction projects on hold, in addition to the 24 projects dropped from its bidding schedule last month due to increasing budget shortfalls.

It looks like deferred maintenance could be a continuing headache for Chao once her expected quick Senate confirmation becomes a reality.
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