By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor · March 31, 2020
With the myriad moving parts related to the ongoing coronavirus, or COVID-19 pandemic, it has seemed that a future plan relating to a new long-term federal surface transportation authorization would remain where it has seemingly been for a while, on the back burner.
Well, based on a recent Tweet issued by President Trump, one could get the impression that sentiment towards a federal infrastructure could be gaining traction.
The Tweet reads as follows: “With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill. It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4.”
The $2 trillion tally is nothing to sneeze at, to be sure, but another thing to be sure of is that, coronavirus pandemic aside, we are amid, arguably, the most dysfunctional political times maybe ever. Agree or disagree, if you like, it is merely an observation. That said it will be a bumpy ride to this goal to make it across the finish line, in an election year no less. One reason for that stems from how there are clearly many different definitions of infrastructure. In our freight transportation and logistics world, infrastructure is clearly focused on things like highways, roads, interstates, ports, terminals, and airports. But other definitions take a look at infrastructure in the form of public drinking water systems, hospital capacity, and rural broadband upgrades, which are cornerstones of a House Democrat vision of future infrastructure initiatives, according to a recent report in The Hill. The report noted that House Democrats maintain this focus would include job gains, which would be welcome, given the recent staggering numbers of Americans filing for unemployment benefits. One of the first people I reached out to when I learned about this development was Randy Mullett, principal of Mullett Strategies, a consulting practice focused on helping clients navigate the intricacies of Washington, DC in the areas of trucking, freight, sustainability, security, and safety, and longtime Government Relations and Public Affairs official for Con-way and XPO Logistics. “We have a lot of unmet infrastructure needs that could be addressed in a large infrastructure package but, while the president is talking roads and bridges some Democrat leaders are talking more about internet access, the electrical grid, and other public utilities (water and sewer),” Mullett explained. “All may be necessary, and worthy, but highways and bridges benefit all communities and spread the dollars and jobs more broadly than some of the other proposals. Transportation projects also generate revenue for the federal treasury with increased gas/fuel taxes. Finally, an improved transportation system will lead to economic growth and efficiency.” Mullett, as usual, made some really good points in raising the key points and drivers for a federal infrastructure focus. It is also worth noting that before the coronavirus took hold, infrastructure was, at least getting some attention—on both sides of the aisle—in Washington, D.C., especially coming out of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Now, despite the President’s Tweet, things truly feel like they are in a prolonged holding pattern, when it comes to infrastructure (and many other things, too, of course). With things so uncertain, it is really difficult to gauge when we will see meaningful movement on a new long-term federal surface transportation authorization. That is not ideal, but will we get there eventually.
March 31, 2020