Secretary Chao addressing attendees of AASHTO meeting in Washington on Feb. 28. Photo: via Twitter @USDOT

Secretary Chao addressing attendees of AASHTO meeting in Washington on Feb. 28. Photo: via Twitter @USDOT 

When it comes to the glacially swift rollout of President Trump’s infrastructure plan (now under way for well over a year), it can be perhaps be said, to paraphrase Winston Churchill broadly, that never before has so little been said to so many about so much.

To be sure, it is becoming increasingly hard for me to grasp why the plan has not been taken up yet by Congress. Especially given that the President's own party holds the majority in both chambers, not to mention that infrastructure funding is widely regarded as a bipartisan element of responsible governance by most Republicans and Democrats.

Consider the gist of the latest policy speech given by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who is charged with selling the $1.5 trillion invest-and-incentivize plan on Capitol Hill. Chao, who has teased parts of the plan and hinted at other aspects of it in various speeches she has made over the course of the past year, threw a fresh tidbit out on Feb. 28.

Addressing attendees of an American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials meeting in Washington, DC as the keynote speaker, she advised that a new White House publication was due out soon that promises to present “background on the plan.” And, yes, that wording screamed “vague” to me as well.

Chao described the administration's overall plan as a “comprehensive infrastructure proposal… it is broad, ambitious, and has ignited a necessary debate throughout the nation and in the Congress on infrastructure priorities and processes.”

We’ve all heard that before.  But the DOT Secretary did make a point that those who don’t live and breathe policy might need to hear. Pointing out that the Trump plan is “a 10-year investment to modernize our country’s infrastructure assets,” Chao pointed out that it is “comprehensive and separate from a reauthorization package” that typically covers a shorter timeframe.

Chao reiterated that Trump’s goal is to “stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment, which includes a minimum of $200 billion in direct federal funding.  The guiding principles are to use federal dollars as seed money to incentivize infrastructure investment; provide for the needs of rural communities; streamline permitting and speed up project delivery; and reduce unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations.” 

Getting a tad more specific, she said “a key element of the proposal is to empower decision-making at the state and local level, who know best the infrastructure needs of their communities. Half of the new infrastructure funds would go towards incentivizing new state and local investments in infrastructure. A quarter of the Federal funds will be dedicated to addressing rural infrastructure needs, as prioritized by state and local leaders.”

Hitting the point about the importance of local control yet harder, she noted that the federal government “only owns about 10% of our country’s infrastructure, and contributes about 14% of total infrastructure spending.  The rest is owned and funded by state and local governments.  So, giving decision-making power back to local communities makes a lot of sense.”

Perhaps. But many if not all in trucking-- not to mention in American business in general and the vast majority of  the Members of Congress belonging to both major parties-- might beg to differ, arguing that it is the federal government that has the constitutional duty to ensure the free flow of commerce.

On top of that, if the federal government is entrusted with the overarching promise of affording us all life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, doesn’t that mean it should be making sure there are miles and miles of fully funded and good and safe roads and bridges for us to drive upon?

David Cullen

David Cullen

Executive Editor

Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.