Trump wants $1 trillion for infrastructure improvements; Chao agrees

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Updated Mar 3, 2017

“Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land.”

That was one of the many applause lines delivered by President Donald Trump in his first address to a joint meeting of Congress Tuesday, Feb. 28. He went on to propose spending $1 trillion on “a new program of national rebuilding,” which will rely heavily on public-private partnerships.

Safety conesThe president did not offer any details on what those funding partnerships might look like, or details of what specific infrastructure projects might be undertaken. But, Fortune magazine points out that the proposed funding mechanism is similar to one proposed by Trump campaign advisor and now Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. In that proposal, Ross says $137 billion in tax credits could spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years.

Trump’s plan is expected to begin taking shape today as representatives from at last 15 federal agencies meet to discuss possible projects to be considered. That gathering will be led by Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, and will also look at rules and regulations that might delay projects as well as funding.

The National Governors Association has already provided the White House, at its request, a list of 428 projects members of the organization say are top priorities.

Using private funds to pay for infrastructure projects could mean more tolls on U.S. roadways. Some also fear that it could lead to the commercialization of public facilities — like highway rest stops — that would then compete with private businesses. Many such projects might be undertaken near urban centers, where traffic volume makes it easier for private companies to recoup their investment and earn profits.

Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Chao reinforced Trump’s call for improving the country’s roads and bridges.

In a speech Wednesday, March 1 before the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Chao said, “Businesses employing millions of workers are losing their competitive edge because our country’s infrastructure can’t accommodate their logistical systems. That means more supply chain disruptions and inventories that languish longer than necessary in warehouses. That adds unnecessary costs to the bottom line, and drives up the cost of goods and services.”

Like Trump, Chao called for regulatory reform to eliminate possible delays in any projects and added, “Barriers that hamper our ability to tap the full potential of public private partnerships need to be removed.”