The White House Infrastructure Plan
Thursday, February 15, 2018
The White House released its long-awaited Infrastructure plan on February 12. It defines infrastructure to include surface transportation projects; airports; ports; water infrastructure including: drinking water, waste water and storm water systems, broadband and superfund and brownfield clean up.
The plan calls for $200 billion over ten years, and expects it to leverage at least $1.3 trillion in state, local and private funding. Here’s what’s included:
The Funding streams are basically what was covered in the recent APBP Federal Policy webinar. View the webinar slides here (slides 5-9):
50% of the funding ($100 Billion) for an incentive program
- The main criteria for this program is how well the applicant can leverage state, local and private funding to fund the program and its maintenance
- It reversed the 80/20 split with federal funds covering at most 20%
25% ($50 Billion) for rural areas
- 80% goes out in block grants to Governors
- 20% goes into a grant program (main criteria is on economic development)
10% to transformative projects
- Projects that transform how the country finances and builds infrastructure
- Runs through the Commerce Department
- Federal match can be significantly higher
15% to existing loan programs, public activity bonds and revolving loan programs
Funding for the program
White House infrastructure lead, DJ Gribbin, has stated that funding from TIGER, Amtrak and Transit Capital Investment Grants will be “repurposed” for the infrastructure program. Other funding will come from cuts in the budget from other programs. Mr. Gribbin did say that formula funding won’t be touched.
The White House and Congress have both passed 10-year budgets that reduce formula funding starting after the FAST Act runs out (in 2020). Both budgets reduce transportation funding by restricting it to Highway Trust Fund revenues (ie the gas tax). This infrastructure plan does nothing to find a sustainable long-term source of transportation funding.
This plan does do a lot to expedite projects, much of which will be protested by environmental advocates. In some cases, the plan suggests construction can start before environmental reviews are complete. (ie utilities can be relocated). It puts time limits on environmental reviews and on appeals to NEPA decisions.
There is some good news for bicycling and walking projects. The plan promotes allowing small projects, such as transportation alternative projects, to be excluded from federal regulations, and only subject to state reviews. That would speed up delivery for bike/ped projects.
The plan also advocates for projects that have ‘de minimis’ federal funding to be exempt from federal regulations. The plan, however, does not define 'de minimis’.
There are a few pay-fors in the plan. The plan calls for selling off public assets such as parkways and airports.
It also includes increasing funding for infrastructure in federal lands by using royalties from mineral and energy extractions on those same lands.
What happens now?
Now, it’s up to Congress. Congress will decide how much of the White House’s plan to keep, and how to fund the bill.
We’ve already seen some responses. Chairman Barrasso of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is already setting up hearings. We believe he’s had a plan ready to go for months.
Chairman Shuster of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has continued to release statements in favor of raising the gas tax and finding a sustainable funding source for long-term transportation investment.
On the Democratic side, both the House and Senate Democrats have infrastructure plans and both call for $1 trillion in federal investment and depend a lot less on private investment.
While it’s unlikely we’ll see this White House plan implemented as is, we do expect this plan and its themes to be a big part in discussions on transportation in this Congress, and in the next, when they start to debate reauthorization.