Trump promises big on highway funding, could open door to more tolls and privatization

| November 14, 2016
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Trump says he wants $1 trillion invested into U.S. infrastructure during his presidency. Some of that would come from private initiatives that may rely on tolls for funding.

President-elect Donald Trump said throughout his campaign for the White House that he wants major investments in U.S. infrastructure, calling for $1 trillion on infrastructure projects during his presidency.

He reiterated the point in his victory speech last Wednesday. “We’re going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.”

However, major infrastructure bills are challenging pieces of legislation to pass, especially since Congress changed little in the election, says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Pretty much all the same players are still there,” he says.

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Like all spending bills, the challenge is finding funding, says analyst Jonathan Starks, COO of FTR. “Lots of candidates have called for good investment in infrastructure, but the trouble is coming up with mechanisms to pay for it,” he said. “So far we haven’t come up with that plan.”

Trump says he would incentivize private businesses to invest in infrastructure projects by offering them tax incentives. Such privatization of U.S. roads could lead to more tolls, Spencer says.

“The closest Trump came to suggesting how things might be paid for is through privatizing. That sounds good to the financial community but it generally doesn’t play out that well on Main Street — it simply means more tolls,” he said. OOIDA is “open to sustainable funding that’s fair to highway users. The tried and true mechanism of paying for roads and bridges is through fuel taxes. If that’s ruled out, the dilemma gets bigger and harder to resolve.”

The American Trucking Associations said last Wednesday it intends to work with Trump to help make an infrastructure bill a reality. “During the campaign, he highlighted the need to create jobs, and recognized that improving our nation’s infrastructure is critical to strengthening the economy,” ATA President Chris Spear said in a statement. “As the industry that moves nearly 70 percent of our nation’s freight and is a key economic driver, we look forward to working with President-elect Trump on a host of issues, including long-term, sustainable infrastructure funding.”

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Lane Kidd, head of the carrier coalition the Trucking Alliance, says Congress could act as early as next year on a major infrastructure funding bill. Kidd also says the funding source is unclear, yet paramount to such legislation. “The big question is how will it be paid for? I think Trump at one point hinted at bonds being one avenue. Bonds have proven to be an effective way to finance infrastructure by borrowing against future fuel tax revenue,” he says. “It will be interesting to see what would be supported by trucking companies. We always want better roads, until we look around and see who’s going to pay for them.”

Readers continue to react to regulation-related campaign promises
Part of Trump’s appeal to truckers was no doubt his campaign message channeling the notion that regulations had piled on industries across the spectrum, hampering economic productivity. What in the way of trucking regulations should be under the eye of a Trump presidency? Readers responded to a call for viewpoint on their message to the President-elect as the transition to his administration began. Catch a grab-bag of those responses in the podcast at the top of the mailbag playlist above and via the player below.

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