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Why We Can't Have Nice Things
Trump’s Infrastructure Rhetoric Has States Chomping at the Bit

All this talk of $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending has state lawmakers giddy. The AP reports:

With President Donald Trump promising to rebuild crumbling U.S. highways, bridges and buildings, states have begun submitting lists of priority projects in need of funding.

The information has come in response to a December request from Trump’s transition team to the National Governors Association to collect lists of projects from the states, executive director Scott Pattison said in a telephone interview. About 40 states have responded so far, and Pattison said he thinks Trump’s team wants to assess how many “shovel ready” projects there are as it crafts the president’s infrastructure initiative.

“The feeling was ‘if we wanted to try to move quickly, what are some of the things that we could do and what’s out there,”’ he said. Pattison and some transportation officials said they don’t know how Trump’s team plans to use the information.

Former President Barack Obama’s team made a similar request for “shovel-ready” projects for the more than $800 billion stimulus package developed in 2009, said Neil Pedersen, the executive director of the Transportation Research Board, who’s a former Maryland state highway administrator.

Of course, there weren’t many “shovel-ready” projects in the end. Instead, only about 6 percent of the stimulus money was spent on transportation, and much of that was spent on projects with relatively marginal benefits—like a new paint job for the Brooklyn Bridge.

The debate about how much to privatize has so far been the most-discussed question surrounding President Trump’s infrastructure plans, but it’s hardly the only one. Figuring out what projects can be built on a reasonable schedule will be a challenge for the White House and the Department of Transportation. Thanks to onerous permitting processes and lengthy regulatory reviews, American infrastructure takes much longer to build than that of other developed countries. And longer construction times mean higher costs.

Construction is Trump’s area of expertise (second only to his brilliant showmanship) and so it’s possible he knows some things Obama didn’t. But there’s a lot more to rebuilding America than authorizing spending and granting concessions to private companies. For example, the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandates federal projects pay prevailing wages, probably needs serious reform if costs are to be brought back in line. Republican Senator Jeff Flake proposed on Monday to relax the requirements for highway construction. In a meeting where Trump sought to excite union leaders with his infrastructure plans, he indicated he was aware of the bill and suggested he may ultimately support it.

The bottom line is that the United States spends far too much on roads and bridges, and it takes far too long to build and repair them. If Trump can’t figure out how to speed up the process and reduce the cost, the results won’t be very impressive no matter who foots the bill.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    The goals should be to 1) Do worthwhile and needed projects, 2) Get them done as fast as possible, consistent with done WELL, 3) To the extent there is wasted money in the process (by definition), be sure that as much as possible of the waste flows into households with income under $100k per year and as little as possible of the wasted money flows into households with over $100k per year. In other words, there is NO sense in rolling back Davis-Bacon while also dreaming up new ways of allowing the saved money to instead go upward into the machinations of financing or excess contractor profit.

    • seattleoutcast

      To do all that you say we need to eliminate the Davis-Bacon Act. You are adding more and more layers of bureaucracy with your $100,000 limit on the projects which will guarantee price escalation. Also remember that there are many union jobs that pay over $50.00 an hour, which is over $100,000.

      • FriendlyGoat

        You can make it $120,000 if you want. I’m saying that there are many ways to bilk a government. I prefer a lot of little guys getting a little of it to a few big guys getting a lot of it.

        • seattleoutcast

          Well, we agree on that. Our methods are different, unfortunately.

    • Anthony

      Right now, Republicans control the agenda in Congress and infrastructure does not seem high on that agenda:

      • FriendlyGoat

        The only thing really “high” on the agenda is tax reform and deregulation.

        • Anthony

          Post your link for reader benefit!

  • slovokia

    I used to think “shovel ready” was a description of ready made plans to move earth. Now I realise the stuff being moved is more likely to be steaming excrement.

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