May 27, 2020
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Without funding, Trump’s infrastructure plan is a road to nowhere

Kathy Willens | AP
Kathy Willens | AP
In this July, Amtrak workers continue ongoing infrastructure renewal work beneath Penn Station in New York. President Donald Trump unveiled his infrastructure plan, a $1.5 billion proposal relies heavily on state and local governments for funding.

President Donald Trump promised Americans “gleaming new roads” and the “modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.” And he’d do it all quickly by shortcutting environmental regulations and reviews. It turns out this happy future was just a hollow promise.

The Trump administration has lot of ideas for infrastructure improvements, but little in the way of ideas to pay for it. So, the president is passing the buck to state and local governments. Want cleaner drinking water, less congested roadways, more public transit routes? Guess what? You can figure out how to pay for it.

If any entity has less ability to pay for roads, bridges and airports than the federal government, it is state governments. That’s why for decades, federal funding has been used as a carrot to encourage more local investment. Maine’s latest $105 million transportation bond, for example, was matched with about $137 million in federal and other funds.

In Maine, combined state and federal funding falls short of meeting transportation goals set in state statute by $59 million per year.

[Opinion: Trump’s infrastructure plan just shifts costs to local taxpayers]

Due to this lack of transportation funding, Maine is not on track to meet a 2012 law’s timetable to improve the state’s roads, according to a 2016 Department of Transportation report. The department relies heavily on quick repair jobs rather than more expensive rehabilitation projects.

As a result, Mainers spend an extra $385 per year, on average, on vehicle maintenance because of the poor condition of the state’s roads, according to the latest assessment from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The group rated 40 percent of the state’s roads as being in fair to unacceptable conditions and nearly 15 percent of the state’s bridges as structurally deficient, much higher than the New England and U.S. averages.

More than 19 percent of the state’s bridges are functionally obsolete, and 18 percent of state highway miles are rated poor or unacceptable.

This shortfall is the reason state lawmakers are considering an unpopular fee on hybrid and electric vehicles to raise money for road work. Another bill proposes raising the state’s gas tax to raise revenue for transportation work.

Expecting states to come up with more money for infrastructure projects is sheer fantasy.

Nationally, the backlog highway and bridge work totals $836 billion, according to an assessment done by the American Society of Civil Engineers last year. Most of that work is deferred maintenance and repair. The group gave the country an overall grade of D+ for the condition of our infrastructure.

Federal fuel taxes are a major source of federal highway and bridge funding. Because the taxes have not been raised since 1994, the buying power of the national Highway Trust Fund has dropped by 40 percent.

Without a significant increase in fuel taxes, which Trump said he supported last May, or a dedicated source of federal revenue, the president’s infrastructure plan is likely to remain a work of fiction.

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