Days after President Trump was the first to use the word “infrastructure” in an inaugural address, Senate Democrats doubled-down on his promise to invest in infrastructure by offering their own plan to increase investment by $1 trillion over 10 years, and purportedly create more than 15 million new jobs in the process.
The plan, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and dubbed “A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure,” proposes many investments that ASCE has advocated for over the last two decades, including in the 2013 Infrastructure Report Card. The obvious one is increased investment. At $1 trillion—a figure originally proposed by President Trump during his campaign—this or a similar plan would go a long way in closing the $1.6 trillion infrastructure investment gap. The “Blueprint” also emphasizes addressing backlogged needs, which have been growing for far too long and are at the root of our nation’s “D+” infrastructure.
The “Blueprint” offers a good start to furthering our lawmakers’ dialogue on what a large infrastructure bill should include, and how our nation can wisely invest $1 trillion, ensuring ROI and addressing our significant infrastructure needs. In particular, the “Blueprint’s” approach of dividing investment across the 16 categories of infrastructure is important to improving the entirety of the interdependent infrastructure system. But to make the most of this substantial of an investment with an eye on the future, it will be even more important to select the right projects. ASCE has outlined its vision for what a large infrastructure investment bill should include in our “Principles for Infrastructure Investment.” We will rely on these “Principles” to engage Congress as it reacts to the “Blueprint” and considers a path forward on this critical economic and social issue, balancing needed investment with judicious planning to effectively address our infrastructure needs.
Here are some of the highlights of how the Senate Democrats’ “Blueprint” breaks down from ASCE’s perspective*:
- $210 billion for roads and bridges – ASCE recently identified surface transportation as the infrastructure area with the largest unfunded need.
- $10 billion to expand TIGER – Increasing funding into proven programs is an excellent way to ensure that the investment is used effectively.
- $110 billion for water and sewer – The “Blueprint” notes that underinvestment has happened in our drinking and wastewater infrastructure in part because of a hesitancy to increase water rates. An infusion of additional funding will help bring these systems back up to where they need to be for Americans’ safety and quality of life.
- $180 billion for rail and bus – Divided into $130 billion for public transit and $50 billion for rail, which will include acceleration of implementing Positive Train Control.
- $200 billion for transformative projects – Vital Infrastructure Projects (VIPs) as the “Blueprint” calls them would help to elevate not just the quality of our infrastructure, but also put us on a strong path for the future.
- $75 billion for schools – Most of our school buildings were built to originally teach baby boomers and modernization is desperately needed so that schools can prepare students for the 21st
- $65 billion for ports, inland waterways, and airports – Broken down to $30 billion for airports, including through the effective Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and to implement NextGen, $10 billion for dredging, lock maintenance and other needs for ports and inland waterways, and $25 billion to build more resilient communities, which ASCE has highlighted the importance of as one of its eight key criteria when assessing infrastructure.
- $100 billion for energy – Including upgrades in transmission and distribution, along with increased resilience.
- $20 billion for public lands – Directed in part to increased funding for the National Park Service, which infamously has had challenges maintaining its infrastructure, including the iconic Arlington Memorial Bridge.
- $10 billion in seed money for an “IBank” – Expected to be $100 billion for infrastructure once fully leveraged, this would be a way to test the Infrastructure Bank concept on the national level. The Blueprint also notes the need to protect WIFIA and TIFIA, two programs that like TIGER have proven value and should be used to ensure strategic investment.
Missing from the proposal is funding of water resources projects authorized in WRDA14 and WIIN16. These programs would improve dams, levees, and other water resource infrastructure that are in need of improvement and would benefit from an infusion of investment.
One other major sticking point when it comes to federal infrastructure investment: How to pay for it. Democrats maintain the proposal’s $1 trillion investment would be covered by closing tax loopholes. Under its “Principles,” ASCE supports infrastructure investment from all levels of government and the private sector. Ultimately, our nation needs a long-term, sustainable funding solution for all areas of infrastructure. A down payment to modernize our infrastructure that is funded, not just financed, will put us on the right track.
*Italicized text notes ASCE’s comments on specific parts of the proposal based on ASCE Public Policy Statements.