Trump Infrastructure Vision Expected in Weeks: Chao

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By Shaun Courtney

The outlines of a Trump administration infrastructure plan will be released in the next “several weeks,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told an Infrastructure Week gathering May 15 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Chao echoed earlier comments that the administration plans to use $200 billion in direct federal funds to leverage a $1 trillion investment in the country’s crumbling infrastructure over 10 years. The administration intends for the $200 billion investment to be revenue-neutral, rather than adding to the federal deficit.

“[The Office of Management and Budget] is identifying offsets in order to avoid saddling future generations with more debt,” Chao said.

Timing

The administration has been vague about the timing and substance of its plan. Chao’s remarks May 15 did little to clarify what exactly her agency will be releasing in several weeks or when the administration expects a bill to make it to President Donald Trump’s desk.

“The administration will share its vision of what the infrastructure plan will look like in the next several weeks, which will kick off our collaboration with Congress,” Chao said.

Last week Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters that infrastructure could slip to next year’s legislative calendar because of competing priorities like health care and the next fiscal year’s budget. Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, said the administration is running out of time to get an infrastructure bill through Congress before 2018.

Funding

The administration continues its focus on leveraging state, local and private funds to get to the president’s goal of $1 trillion. Chao said the administration will give priority access to new federal funding to states and localities that already have secured funds or financing on their own.

“The goal is to use federal funds as an incentive to get projects underway and built more quickly, with greater participation by state, local and private partners,” Chao said.

The transportation secretary reiterated the administration’s interest in public-private partnerships that use private funds to build or maintain public infrastructure like roads in exchange for operating fees or other benefits to the private investors.

Thune last week said such agreements are easier to make palatable for private investors in densely populated areas. Rural states or districts, however, will need alternative options because the return on investment is not as readily available, he said.

Chao said May 15 that the administration is considering “creative models” to ensure the infrastructure plan benefits urban and rural areas.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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