We sure do keep hearing about how President Trump is fired up to build a wall — of some sort— along our Southern border. Whether we need such a barrier or not is not germane to trucking per se.
What is crucial to grasp, however, is what the federal government is most definitely not geared up to build any day soon: roads and bridges. Or, for that matter, any type of wide-scale infrastructure that the country needs, be that highways, broadband networks, or bike paths.
If you're thinking you’ve heard all this before, you're right. It’s now been two years and counting (that is, roughly plus four months…. so far) since then President-elect Donald Trump grandiloquently promised he would roll out a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. Many beyond and even within the Beltway naively pictured the then GOP-controlled 115th Congress falling all over itself to get such a package passed posthaste.
President Trump never actually sent a full infrastructure plan up to Capitol Hill. Whether or not some or many Democratic and Republican lawmakers would have signed on, no major infrastructure bill of any sort was brought forward in the House or the Senate during 2017 and 2018, let alone passed. Hard to believe, especially when we hear ad infinitum from trucking lobbyists that no legislation is more bipartisan by nature than that which gets roads and bridges built.
In fairness, it was a tough ask to expect the 115th Congress to focus on much else when the GOP majority was hellbent on pushing through its $1.5 trillion tax-cut package, which passed in December 2017. As noted by the Pew Research Center, other major legislation— much of it with bipartisan support— was also passed by the last Congress, including a landmark overhaul of the federal criminal justice system, a law to put teeth into tackling the opioid crisis, a rewrite of copyright and royalty rules, a five-year farm bill, and sanctions placed on Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
But nothing that would pour asphalt on a roadway or concrete for a bridge.
If it’s true that nothing is as bipartisan as roads and bridges, how should infrastructure be tackled in the new 116th Congress? In a recent blog post, a pair of bona fide policy wonks with the Brookings Institution nonprofit think tank, who also predicted Trump’s original trillion-dollar promise would fall flat on Capitol Hill, suggest that what’s holding back development and passage of a monumental infrastructure package is not politics. It’s plain old wrong-headed thinking.
Brookings Fellow Adie Tomer and Associate Fellow Joseph Kane contend that in its initial hearing since the House was returned to Democratic control, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee wound up spending much of seven hours on little more than “the costs of doing nothing” about the state of America’s infrastructure.
Tomer and Kane argue that case has already been made. Over and over. Indeed, they characterized many of the statements made by committee members and witnesses in that hearing as “alarmist and reactionary,” saying they “repeated similar strategies from past years,” such as raising the federal fuel tax and “testing out new user fees,” which truckers call tolls, of course.
The blogging wonks suggest it is time “to break free from these same debates” and see “federal leaders concentrate on more salient infrastructure concerns, think long-range, and exhibit some patience to explore big ideas.”
Tomer and Kane contend that what’s really needed now is a “21st century infrastructure vision to address economic, technological, and environmental change” that would see federal policymakers partnering with state and local leaders as well as those in the private sector “to better measure, target, and accelerate” infrastructure investments.
“Americans want a new vision,” they sum up. But then they ask, “How will we know if this will be another two years with no real movement?” They answer that by advising this: “If the conversation starts with alarms and dollar signs, we’ve already lost.”
If it is time to think big, then it’s time for trucking stakeholders to determine what they really want America’s highways to deliver for them. And then demand that Congress stop all its hand-wringing and get some road work done.