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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