Trump Sworn in as 45th US President, Infrastructure Plans Remain Unclearby Jana Ritter - Published: 1/20/2017
On Friday, Donald J. Trump was officially sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. While protests erupted throughout Washington, D.C., the inauguration ceremony remained peaceful and the new president addressed the nation with a populist speech vowing to put “America first” and promising to transfer the power from political elites to the people. He spoke about the country’s forgotten men and women, children in poverty, schools in crisis and streets riddled with crime and carnage. What he didn’t mention was his plans for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, which is something the trucking industry has been counting on.
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“It is crumbling. It’s everything—roads, bridges, tunnels,” says Brad Jacobs, chairman and CEO of XPO Logistics. “If enacted properly––and that’s a big if––a major infrastructure rebuilding program would help make us more efficient,” he adds. Wayne Spain, president and COO of Averitt Express also points out that congestion around metropolitan areas has progressively gotten worse over the years and the response has been far too slow in expanding roadways to accommodate the increased traffic. “Hopefully, future infrastructure projects will help alleviate the challenges that commuters and truck drivers are experiencing on our nation’s increasingly busy interstates and highways,” says Spain.
During his campaign, Trump promised a trillion-dollar infrastructure stimulus that would “build new roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, airports and the railways of our tomorrow” and create millions of jobs in the process. While he explained that he would advance "myriad economic policies" that would generate the funding needed to cover the huge costs of revamping an entire highway and freight network, he did not specify exactly how his policies would actually see his plans through and he hasn’t said much else about the infrastructure topic since the election.
However, Trump’s incoming Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, has made statements about the new administration’s plans to “unleash the potential” of private capital to modernize the infrastructure. During her confirmation hearing, Chao also said that economic gains are being jeopardized by infrastructure "in need of repair, the specter of rising highway fatalities, growing congestion, and by a failure to keep pace with emerging technologies" and that it’s time to take advantage of "innovative financing tools" that can "take full advantage of the estimated trillions in capital that equity firms, pension funds, and endowments can invest." This, she said, would be the “bold, new vision” for transport.
As promising as this new vision may sound to some ears, outgoing Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, has warned that realistically private money can only cover part of the costs (maybe 10 to 20 percent) of what it will take to repair the nation’s transportation problems. “We’re still going to need a fair amount of public funding. I don't see public-private partnership as a 100 percent strategy to solve our transportation problems," Foxx explained. The Obama administration had repeatedly proposed huge government investments in rebuilding US roads and highways, but all those attempts throughout the years were blocked by Republicans.
When and how it gets done remains unclear but trucking industry executives all agree that America is long overdue for an ambitious national infrastructure spending program to at least make America's roads great again. “This should have been done 25 years ago. But better late than never,” says XPO’s Jacobs.