Monday, March 20, 2017

Administration lists top 50 infrastructure projects, many for rural areas, but McConnell is skeptical

One of Trump's top infrastructure projects calls
for repairs of Interstate 95 through North Carolina
The Trump administration recently released a priority list of 50 infrastructure projects, including several that would benefit rural areas, report Lynn Horsley, Steve Vockrodt, Walker Orenstein and Linsday Wise of McClatchy Newspapers: "The preliminary list offers a first glimpse at which projects around the country might get funding if Trump follows through on his campaign promise to renew America’s crumbling highways, airports, dams and bridges."

The No. 1 project is the Gateway Program, which would be a $12 billion reconstruction of high-risk Northeast Corridor rail infrastructure between Newark, N.J. and New York City. Second on the list is the Brent Spence Bridge, a $2.5 billion project to fix the nation's 15th worst bridge on I-75 between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. Next is $2 billion to construct the National Research Lab for Infrastructure in Columbus, Ohio, $3 billion to complete the Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River near the Mississippi to aid barge traffic on the rivers, and $1.5 billion for critical highways repairs on I-95 in North Carolina.

Rounding out the top 10 are $8 billion for bridge repairs on I-95 in Philadelphia, $1 billion for Mississippi River shipping channel dredging in South Louisiana, $10 billion for the NextGen air traffic control system to replace outdated equipment, $2.5 billion for a 720-mile transmission line to move clean, wind power energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Memphis, and $3 billion for seven new water tunnels in Cleveland to reduce contaminated water in Lake Erie.

Other projects that could benefit rural areas: $850 million to repair South Carolina dams; $250 million for water recovery in Cadiz, Calif; $3 billion for the TransWest Express Transmission Project to deliver cost-effect renewable energy in Wyoming to desert regions in Arizona, California and Nevada; $5 billion for a wind energy project in Wyoming; $4.5-5 million for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; $600 million to find new, sustainable water sources in New Mexico; $800 million to widen I-93 in Massachusetts and New Hampshire; $800 million for reconstruction of I-395/I-95; $1 billion to improve the I-70 Mountain Corridor in Colorado; and $1 billion to improve I-25 in Colorado.

But the prospects of a big infrastructure package getting through Congress aren't good, judging from comments Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made in an interview last week with Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and publisher of The Rural Blog.

"We’re not interested in going out and borrowing money and plussing up a bunch of federal accounts," McConnell said. "A credible infrastructure bill has to be paid for, and the two ways to pay for it are both challenging politically. The Democrats don’t like public-private partnerships, which invariably means tolling. Everybody’s queasy about a gas-tax increase because of the way lower middle-class people have fallen behind over the last eight years. . . . Everybody loves roads, everybody loves buildings, but it’s going to have to be credibly paid for to be passed by this Congress."

Asked if he wanted want no sort of federal appropriations that would add to the deficit to build infrastructure, McConnell replied, "No. We need to pay for it. We’ve got a $21 trillion debt." Told that some research has shown better infrastructure improves economic productivity, he replied, "You can argue that, but we’ve got a $21 trillion debt, and about half of it we’ve accumulated in eight years, and I think we have a dangerous level of debt to GDP [gross domestic product] and I don’t think this particular Congress is going to be interested in making it worse."

Public-private partnerships are less feasible in rural areas because investors need high volume to pay tolls or other fees to recoup their investment, Ashley Halsey reported for The Washington Post last month.

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