Infrastructure Week 2018: Don’t Worry, Washington Says They’re Still Working on It

While a comprehensive infrastructure bill may not be in the cards for 2018, that doesn’t mean infrastructure won’t factor into this year’s Congressional agenda. It also didn’t mean Infrastructure Week (May 14-21) was completely devoid of infrastructure-related news. Far from it. Here’s a roundup of some of the infrastructure news from the last couple of weeks.

Status of the Trump Infrastructure Plan

Of course, the prospects for infrastructure legislation this year and the status of the infrastructure plan laid out by President Trump this February were key topics of conversation in Washington last week. Here's just some of what folks were saying:

  • U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who participated in a “keynote conversation” as part of the Infrastructure Week kickoff event in Washington May 14, observed that “the difficulty is how do we pay for” an infrastructure package. But she said the administration is considering “about 16 (or) 17 different financing mechanisms,” each of which has supporters and detractors. Among the ideas she mentioned specifically: user fees like gas taxes and tolls, mileage-based user fees and public-private partnerships. You can read more about the secretary’s remarks here.
  • Despite the common consensus that an infrastructure package based on the President’s plan likely isn’t in the cards—at least not before the midterm elections, some lawmakers are still saying things are moving forward. “It’s not dead on arrival,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe of the Trump plan at an Axios event last week. “In fact, we’re very actively working on it right now.” Inhofe was optimistic lawmakers would be able to come up with the $200 billion in federal spending over 10 years the White House proposal suggests in order to leverage $1.5 trillion in funding from other sources. “When you say $200 billion, we’re gonna get that done,” Inhofe said. Read more here.
  • House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster convened a meeting with Republican members of the committee May 18 at which they were asked to “bring their ideas and priorities, which could be used to start putting together a potential rebuilding package,” The Hill reported. This week Shuster indicated he hoped to introduce legislation this summer—before the August recess and perhaps before the July 4th break, according to Politico. Rep. Sam Graves, who chairs the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, had previously said committee members would be working on a “framework” of transportation infrastructure concepts to put forward later in the year.
  • The ranking Democrat on the House T&I Committee, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, told Bloomberg Government last week that if Democrats take control of the House in the midterm elections, he’ll work to pass a federal gas tax increase to help fund the next surface transportation bill. “I am hopeful that if the House of Representatives changes hands we will have a meaningful bill,” DeFazio said. “We don’t need much more policy changes. We have a pretty good policy in the FAST Act, it’s just inadequate funding.” But DeFazio said not to expect a gas tax hike from this Congress, even during the lame duck session following the election. “Speaker (Paul) Ryan is opposed to any increase in user fees of any support and any additional increase in transportation infrastructure,” he said. “As long as he’s the speaker, I don’t see any meaningful legislation to fund surface transportation legislation moving through the House of Representatives.”

Other Notable Infrastructure Week and Post-Infrastructure Week Activities

  • The House appropriations bill for U.S. Department of Transportation and Housing & Urban Development programs was released, approved in subcommittee and approved by the full committee. It would allocate $71.8 billion in discretionary spending, an increase of $1.5 billion above the FY 2018 spending level and $23.8 billion above the President’s request. It largely ignores many of President Trump’s proposed cuts to transportation and infrastructure programs. Read more here, here and here. It’s not clear when the bill could be on the House floor but lawmakers are racing to complete the appropriations process before the end of September, Politico noted.
  • The House T&I Committee on May 18 introduced its biennial water resources bill, known as the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018. The committee approved the legislation May 23. The legislation requests an analysis of the effects of moving the Corps of Engineers’ civil work out of the Defense Department and either to a new entity or another agency. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee also approved its own bipartisan water infrastructure bill this week, which doesn’t address the potential move for the Corps. There is more about the water infrastructure bills here, here, here, here and here. The House bill is expected on the floor during the first week of June.
  • A new report by the American Public Transportation Association finds that the failure to invest in public transportation infrastructure will cost the country $340 billion through 2023 and result in the loss of 162,000 jobs. There is more on the report here, here and here.
  • AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and IBTTA, the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, hosted a webinar on the state of highway investment. Read summaries here, here and here. Watch the event here.  
  • The Bipartisan Policy Center hosted an event May 16 on “Putting P3s to Work in the United States” that included remarks by Australian Ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey, a proponent of asset recycling.
  • The Brookings Institution and the National Association of Counties hosted an event May 17 titled “Modernizing Infrastructure Policies to Advance Public-Private Partnerships.” This article looks at some of the issues discussed. I’ll also have more about that forum in an upcoming post.
  • A recent webinar hosted by the State Smart Transportation Initiative explained how the BUILD competitive grant program will be different from its predecessor, TIGER.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation and the American Association of Port Authorities hosted a webinar May 22 on multimodal funding opportunities, including BUILD. A summary can be found here.
  • A poll conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute found that most Americans believe the President and the federal government are not prioritizing the nation’s transportation infrastructure enough.

Further Reading

Register Now for US P3 Infrastructure Forum 2018

There is still time to register for the US P3 Infrastructure Forum 2018 hosted by Inframation. CSG is pleased to be a supporting organization and media partner this year on the conference, which takes place June 13-14 at The Hilton Midtown in New York City. The full agenda for the 14th annual event is now available and you can request your copy here. The Infrastructure Forum brings together state and federal public officials and regional transportation authorities, along with infrastructure developers, investors and financiers to talk about what’s happening with public-private partnerships around the country and the issues that are shaping the industry’s future. You can find out more about how to register for the conference on the event website. You can read bios of some of the great featured speakers here. For an idea of what to expect, you can read my coverage of the 2016 forum here.