Posts Tagged ‘infrastructure’

Trump Infrastructure Plan Already Flagging in Congress

March 13, 2018

President Trump has had his say and now Congress is responding to his infrastructure plan. The early returns do not look promising.

Last week, Senate Democrats put forth a $1-trillion infrastructure plan that would, among other things, allocate $180 billion over the next decade to expand and rehabilitate rail and bus systems.

That might sound like music to the ears of rail passenger and public transportation proponents, but the Democrats are the minority party in the Senate and face an uphill battle to take control of that chamber in the November elections.

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, has his own idea of how Congress should deal with the Trump infrastructure proposal.

He expects Congress to pass several piecemeal bills that will address infrastructure.

Committees dealing with aviation, water and energy are likely to begin drafting their own infrastructure proposals this spring with votes not likely before the summer.

Ryan’s comments are being interpreted by some political observers as a setback for the Trump plan.

The speaker also doused the idea of increasing the federal gasoline tax, a move that had been supported by Republican and Democratic members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The 18.4 cent a gallon tax goes into the Highway Trust Fund and was last increased in 1993. In recent years the revenue flowing from the tax has considerably eroded.

Ryan said raising the gas tax would undo the benefit of the tax cuts that he helped shepherd through Congress late last year.

The Trump administration infrastructure plan does not call for a gas tax increase, but some lawmakers say Trump suggested in a meeting at the White House last month raising the tax to 25 cents per gallon.

The Hill, a website that covers the federal government, reported recently that enthusiasm among Republicans for Trump’s infrastructure program has been lackluster.

Ryan suggested that infrastructure could be addressed in a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, in a must pass omnibus budget bill that has a March 23 deadline, and in the Water Resources Development Act, which Congress must renew every two years.

The omnibus budget bill would represent what Ryan termed a “down payment” on an infrastructure plan.

Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who heads the House Transportation Committee, continues to push for a larger infrastructure bill and has spoken about working with Democrats on the committee to win approval of a package to fund roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and other public works.

Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, acknowledged that opposition to an increase in the gasoline tax presents a challenge to those who want an infrastructure plan.

“Well, it probably means that a big robust infrastructure plan is going to be hard to do if there’s not the money to do it. But I think there are things we can do in the context of an infrastructure bill with some amount of funding,” Thune said.

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Gas Tax Hike Idea Dividing Public

February 28, 2018

The prospect of raising the federal gasoline tax has drawn mixed reviews, the Quinnipiac University poll found.

Although 46 percent think it is a good idea, 44 percent think it is a bad one. Unlike many policy proposals, there is no sharp partisan split.

Forty-eight percent of Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents believe raising the gas tax helpful in paying for infrastructure projects involving railroads, bridges and roads.

Congress last increased the gasoline tax in the 1993 and some have been floating the idea of increasing it again.

The Quinnipiac poll was conducted from February 16-19 and surveyed 1,249 voters. The survey has a 3.4-percentage-point margin of error.

Infrastructure Plan Has Ideas for Railroads, Transit

February 13, 2018

The Trump Administration infrastructure plan released on Monday devoted nine paragraphs in its 55 pages to the railroad industry.

The plan, which is more a concept than a blueprint, proposes that Congress authorize funds to the U.S. Department of Transportation related to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program.

The infrastructure plan, titled Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America proposes funding passenger and short-line freight projects so supporters of those projects can borrow at rates comparable to better-funded or less risky ventures.

The administration also wants Congress to change the law to reduce the time that organizations or people can contest a project from two years to 150 days.

Related to that, the administration wants to reduce the amount of time needed for an environmental review process for projects that involve the purchase or exercise of options on proposed rights-of-way.

The proposed change would enable rail project promoters to buy land earlier in the process.

Another proposed change would affect transit projects. The administration has proposed that transit agencies and developers that use federal funds must have “value capture” financing

This would levy additional taxes and fees or grant land-use rights to transit agencies with the expectation that businesses and properties near transit projects would see a boost in value after transit comes in.

Finally, the administration wants fewer limits on public-private partnerships in transit projects.

Trump Infrastructure Plan to be Revealed

February 12, 2018

The long-awaited Trump administration infrastructure plan will be revealed today and despite the $1.5 trillion benefits being touted by the president it is expected to provide a modest $200 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years.

The plan is already facing opposition in Congress from conservative Republicans who think the price tag is too high and Democrats who think it is not enough.

Aside from being designed to bolster infrastructure spending, the plan also is designed to change the nature of the funding relationship between state and local governments, and the federal government.

For decades, infrastructure projects have received large chunks of funding from federal money.

But the Trump infrastructure proposal would limit the federal share to 20 percent of a project’s cost.

Critics contend the plan will also encourage a wave of toll roads and bridges to pay for some road projects.

Also expected to be in the proposal is a relaxation of environmental rules surrounding infrastructure plans. The administration wants to reduce the time needed for an environmental review to no more than two years.

Trump has acknowledged that the $200 billion in federal aid is not a large amount and has also spoke of paying for the plan by making unspecified budget cuts elsewhere.

A White House official told reporters during a briefing on Saturday about the proposal that Trump’s infrastructure plan isn’t an all or nothing thing.

“This is the start of a negotiation — bicameral, bipartisan negotiation — to find the best solution for infrastructure in the U.S.,” the official said.

The official said Trump “is open to new sources of funding.” However, he downplayed an increase in the gasoline tax as has been proposed by some, including House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Schuster and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The funding from the infrastructure plan would not be limited to transportation projects.

It would fund such things as broadband in rural areas and aim to encourage apprenticeships and other forms of workforce training as well as pay for unspecified “transformative,” “next-century-type” projects that would “lift the American spirit,” a White House official said.

What is to be released today is a statement of principles that Congress will work into legislation.

That means the proposal will be overseen by 11 House and Senate committees, all of which are likely to have their own visions for what the infrastructure plan should and shouldn’t be.

The administration is planning to hold a briefing with state and local officials this morning and to engage in a campaign on behalf of the plan from Trump and members of his cabinet.

Cabinet members are expected to fan out across the country to talk about infrastructure needs.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has said the backlog of needed infrastructure projects amounts to $4.59 trillion in needed investments by 2025.

Trump Talks Broadly About Infrastructure Plan

February 1, 2018

As expected President Donald Trump in his state of the union speech before Congress this week called for legislation to modernize the nation’s infrastructure.

Trump did not give any details about the proposal. Administration sources have said that those will come sometime after the speech.

“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways across our land,” Trump said.

During his address, Trump called for a bill that will result in “at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need.”

He acknowledged as has been reported by multiple sources that his plan will call for using federal funding to match money put up by state and local governments, as well as the private sector.

Some reports citing a leaked document said the federal match will be no more than 20 percent per project.

Trump described this as a way “to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.”

He also said the bill also should shorten time needed to issue permits and grant approvals for projects to no more than two years.

Infrastructure Plan Details Leaked

January 23, 2018

What was purported to be a copy of the long awaited Trump administration infrastructure plan was leaked on Tuesday and it shows that federal grants cannot make up more than 20 percent of the cost of any project.

If so, that would mean that the federal government could end up contributing less to infrastructure projects than it does today. Under current rules, the federal share of some projects is as much as 50 percent for new transit projects.

The six-page plan was first reported by the website Axios and does not provide any details about cost. Much of the contents of the plan are consistent with news reports and public statements made by federal officials.

For example the plan would devote a quarter of the funding to rural infrastructure projects.  Also as has been previously reported, the plan would give states more authority to impose tolls on highways that receive federal funding.

Specifically, the documents calls for states to have “flexibility” to collect interstate tolls and to use toll revenues to fund infrastructure projects.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump had pledged a $1 trillion infrastructure plan but in recent weeks there has been talk that the federal share of the plan will be only $200 million over a 10-year period.

The leaked copy of the plan outlines use of federal grants to spur state, local, and private investment. Aside from transportation, the funds could be used for broadband installation, water projects, waste treatment programs, electric transmission lines and veteran’s affairs facilities.

Reuters reporter David Shepardson was skeptical that the document was written by a government agency, saying it appears to have been based on a Legislative Referral Memorandum that has been making the rounds.

Information in the document suggests that it was written on Jan. 8 and lists the name of a Washington lobbyist as the author. Neither that lobbyist nor the White House would comment on the document.

Ten percent of the funding would be used for what is termed a Transformative Projects Program that focuses on innovative or “ground-breaking” infrastructure projects that might be riskier investments for private entities, but “offer a larger reward profile.”

Also included in the plan is the use of tax incentives for private investors, including expanding the use of private activity bonds, and the creation of a new “Public Lands Infrastructure Fund,” which would put aside money from mineral and energy extraction on federal lands and waters.

There is no proposal to increase the federal gasoline tax as some, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have proposed as a way of shoring up the sagging Highway Trust Fund. The gas tax has not risen in more than two decades.

It is still not clear when the Trump administration will release the plan, but some believe it will be following the State of the Union address. Trump is expected to touch upon infrastructure in that speech to Congress.

Nor is it clear what type of reception that the plan will receive in Congress. The Hill website noted that Congress has historically been loath to expand the use of tolls to pay for infrastructure projects.

Infrastructure Plan Seen as $200B Federal Share

January 17, 2018

Early reports on the size of the infrastructure plan expected to be proposed by the Trump administration indicate that it will earmark $200 billion in federal spending which is well below the $1 trillion figure talked about earlier.

However, administration officials have been saying of late that they believe the federal investment will draw in state contributions and money from private investors that could boost infrastructure spending to $1 trillion.

The plan is expected to be release late this month or in early February.

The ranking Senate Democrat on the committee that will oversee the plan is already talking it down, saying it is far less than what the nation needs.

“I think most people understand if we want to have better roads, highways, bridges, trains  . . . we gotta pay for them,” said Tom Carper (D-Delware), who sits on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Carper also is a member of the Senate Finance Committee that would authorize funding for the infrastructure bill.

Carper, who commutes on Amtrak to Washington, told Politico that he hopes Trump will propose a serious infrastructure proposal that will attract Democratic support.

The infrastructure plan might also allow for an expanded of charging tolls to help pay for the projects.

“I think the idea of using tolling for new road construction is probably a pretty good idea, and acceptable,” Carper said. “Especially now that we have the technology.”

Senate, Chao Talk About Infrastructure Plan

January 11, 2018

Talks between members of the U.S. Senate and the Trump administration about the latter’s proposed infrastructure package were held this week on Capitol Hill, although few details of those discussions have been released.

Speaking for the administration was Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who was joined by other administration officials.

Although news media reports have said the infrastructure plan is expected to be $1 trillion, some recent reports have put the size of the package at a lower figure, perhaps no more than $200 million.

There has been speculation that the package will be rolled out in the coming weeks, probably after the state of the union address on Jan. 30.

Senator John Barrasso, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in a statement that the meeting featured “a direct back-and-forth with administration leadership on their priorities.”

Senator Tom Carper, the ranking minority party member of the committee, said in a statement that, “While there is no shortage of issues on which the president and I disagree, the kind of large scale trillion-dollar infrastructure investment that then-candidate Trump talked about is something that has the potential to elicit bipartisan support here in Congress.”

More than 150 national trade organizations, including some in the railroad and railroad supply industries, have urged Congress to approve an infrastructure investment package.

Crystal Ball Look at 2018 and Railroads

January 3, 2018

With a new year upon us, it’s time to look ahead to what 2018 might bring in the railroad industry. Such predictions are fraught with peril given that unexpected developments can occur at any time that dramatically changes the trajectory of the industry or its individual components.

A year ago at this time we thought E. Hunter Harrison was living out his days as CEO of Canadian Pacific. Few knew that he was plotting with a hedge fund to take over CSX.

Even fewer knew that Harrison was in his final days of overseeing any railroad and would die before the year ended.

With that in mind I press ahead in reviewing four stories to watch in 2018.

What now for CSX? The patriarch of precision scheduled railroading left before his model could be fully implemented.

Look for CSX to continue the PSR model under new CEO James M. Foote, although with some modifications.

Much of the early months of 2018 will see Foote finding his way at CSX while assuring investors that he was a wise choice to replace Harrison.

Industry analysts have pointed out that Foote is thin in operating experience. Much of his industry time has been spent in marketing and sales.

That could turn out to be a good thing for CSX because customer relations was not Harrison’s strong suit. He was an old school operating man who wanted to dictate terms to shippers not the other way around.

Look for CSX to appoint an operations vice president so that Foote can focus on what he knows best.

Both Canadian National and CP have done quite well post-Harrison. Will the same be true for CSX? Perhaps, but if that is the case it will be due to Harrison having laid the foundation not from having built the house as was the case at CN and CP.

What now for Amtrak? Richard Anderson is firmly in control of the nation’s rail passenger carrier with Charles “Wick” Moorman having retired.

Anderson, the former CEO at Delta Air Lines, has hired a supporting team that includes former airline executives. It remains to be seen what that means.

These airline executives cut their teeth during the airline deregulation era when airlines learned ways to squeeze every last dollar out of passengers through such things as baggage fees and seat assignment fees, among others.

Remember the last time that an airline served you a not meal in coach as part of your fare? Yeah, it’s been a while.

Anderson won’t necessarily remake Amtrak in that model but look for him to move in that direction.

The name of the game will be maximizing revenue yield – something Amtrak has already been doing – as the carrier seeks to recover even more of its expenses from the fare box.

Anderson will have his hands full this year attending to matters that grabbed a disproportionate number of headlines in 2017. This includes the rebuilding of New York’s Penn Station and dealing with the aftermath of the derailment of a Cascades Service train in Washington State.

Much of the latter has focused on the fact that positive train control was not yet in operation on the route. Questions are being raised about the adequacy of training of Amtrak operating employees and the railroad’s safety culture.

These matters will continue to attract attention in 2018 and take up much of Anderson’s time.

Rail passenger advocates in places such as Ohio will continue to be disappointed in Amtrak in 2018. But that is nothing new.

Little, if any, progress will be made in terms of route expansion, new equipment for long-distance trains or expanding the frequency of such tri-weekly services as the Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that the aging Superliners will get a new interior look starting later in the year.

Will Railroads Make the PTC Deadline? The last day of 2018 is the deadline for the railroad industry to implement positive train control systems on routes that handle passengers and/or carry hazardous cargo. The deadline has been moved once already.

The Federal Railroad Administration has warned that waivers won’t be issued again, but that was during a different administration.

The Trump administration might be far more sympathetic to railroad industry pleas for a little more time due to the expense and complexity of PTC systems.

Some railroads will make the deadline, but others are going to be cutting it close.

Will the Trump Infrastructure Plan See the Light of Day? Candidate Donald Trump liked to talk about his big plans to revamp the nation’s infrastructure. President Donald Trump has barely mentioned it other than to pay it lip service on occasion.

The administration has been tight lipped about the scope of the plan other than a few broad details, such as $200 billion in federal funds will be used to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements.

Supposedly, the infrastructure plan was being held in abeyance until Congress passed a tax bill, which it did in late December.

In theory, an infrastructure improvement plan should have bi-partisan support. But in a hyper partisan environment during a midterm election year bi-partisan support might be hard to come by. Political hardball will be the rule.

There remains the question of how much the railroad industry would benefit from an infrastructure plan once or even if it is implemented. Few rail infrastructure plans come with a private developer other than than the railroad itself to provide matching funds.

Passenger rail should be a prime beneficiary of an infrastructure plan, but given the current political climate it might find little to feed on except for a few token crumbs that will be eaten by Northeast Corridor infrastructure needs, of which there are many.

Freight railroads might fare a little better in getting funds for some projects, e.g., enlarging tunnels or replacing bridges that they agree to help fund.

But don’t be surprised if the infrastructure plan winds up benefiting highways and even some areas that only a strained definition of infrastructure would incorporate, e.g., a veteran’s hospital. It will hinge on how the terms of the plan are written.

A lot of hungry government agencies and private companies are going to be looking for a slice of the infrastructure pie and might provide tortuous explanations as to how their project constitutes infrastructure.

I’m reminded of that famous response from bank robber Willie Sutton in the Saturday Evening Post as to why he robbed banks: “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”

The infrastructure plan might make available money not available otherwise so there are going to be a lot of hand out seeking a part of it.

Conservatives in Congress will not necessarily offer automatic support for an infrastructure plan, which they might fame as a stimulus plan. That would remind them too much of something they despised during the early years of the Obama administration.

And conservatives absolutely, positively dislike spending federal money on passenger rail. They are not all that more supportive of public transportation even when it uses rubber tires on asphalt and concrete surfaces.

Trump Might Support 7-cent Gas Tax Hike

October 31, 2017

The Trump administration might seek an increase in the federal gasoline tax as a way of paying for a proposed $1 trillion infrastructure program.

That point was made by Trump’s economic adviser Gary Cohn during a private meeting with House lawmakers last week.

The proposed 7-cent increase would be used to fund public work projects, such as railways, roads, waterways and bridges.

Trump had said earlier this year during an interview with Bloomberg News that he was open to a gas tax increase. The last gasoline tax increase came in 1993.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said there is little interest in a gas tax hike now, but that committee members might support one if the White House gets involved and supports the increase.

Although the Trump infrastructure plan has received widespread attention, the administration has yet to reveal any hard details about it.