Guest Column | February 22, 2017

Will Infrastructure Investment Really Happen? And, If So — When, How, And Where?

By Mary Scott Nabers

In the months leading up to the presidential election, Donald Trump announced that, if elected, he would incentivize $1 trillion into the nation’s ailing infrastructure. Citizens, taxpayers, public officials, and contractors have been waiting to see if that would really happen or not.  President Trump recently announced that he had selected private-sector P3 expert David James "DJ" Gribbin to serve as his special assistant for infrastructure.

It was a big announcement and one that caused people to ask…will it really happen?  Maybe so!  Even Democrats want to see infrastructure reform.  In fact, Senate Democrats have released a $1 trillion infrastructure plan of their own and are pledging to hold President Trump to his promise. It appears that infrastructure reform is one issue that both parties agree on — and that is more than encouraging.

The Trump administration has put together a list of 50 emergency and national security infrastructure projects throughout the U.S. The list carries a price tag of $137.5 billion. A similar list was shared with the National Governors Association (NGA) in December and a request was made to governors to submit between three and five state projects that should be added to the infrastructure list.

Earlier this month, the NGA replied to Trump’s request with a list of 428 shovel-ready projects from 49 states and territories. The list included transportation, water, energy, emergency-response, and other projects. Some states such as Texas did not submit any prioritized projects, but most states were eager to comply with the request.

Two days after Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder unveiled a new state budget proposal calling for more state funds for aging infrastructure, he sent a list of nine critical projects that are in need of federal assistance.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley sent a list with his state’s top priority being an $850 million new bridge project and expansion of Interstate 10. Other projects on his list included the Birmingham area’s Northern Beltline, a 52-mile bypass that carries a $5.2 billion price tag and several highway projects in Tuscaloosa and Montgomery counties.

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s list did not include the Oroville Dam, California’s second-largest reservoir which was crippled last week when its primary emergency spillway suffered major erosion and critical damage from heavy rains and flooding. California has a $136 billion backlog of much-needed repairs on its state highways and local roads. There were 51 projects submitted by Brown, including building an early-warning earthquake system and widening and replacing interchanges of the 710 Freeway serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked for major levee improvements and for funding to relieve congestion on I-205 and OR-217. Brown also requested $1 billion for seismic improvements to bridges and roads, as well as billions to upgrade the state’s water infrastructure. She also requested the installation of fiber internet in rural Oregon and improvements to I-5 in South Salem and Albany.

Colorado’s list included two urgent projects — an express lane heading west into the mountains on I-70 and a project to add capacity lanes along the northern and southern parts of I-25. It also included water projects and a project to expand rural broadband.

Other state submissions included a $65 million proposal to widen Interstate 10 across Louisiana to Texas, a $2 billion plan to reconstruct 200 miles of Interstate 70 in Missouri, and a $7 billion light rail expansion in Washington state.

An analysis of federal highway data was recently released by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association reporting that cars, trucks, and school buses cross almost 56,000 structurally compromised bridges some 185 million times each day. A review of data provided to the Federal Highway Administration by state transportation departments designates 28 percent of U.S. highway bridges that are at least 50 years old and have never had any major reconstruction work.

There is agreement among almost all parties that infrastructure reform should be one of the highest priorities and now the questions are coming very quickly. What will be Trump’s next move on his trillion-dollar infrastructure promise? How will the new advisor’s role be structured?

As of Feb. 9, Trump has signed 12 executive orders and Trump’s second executive order, Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects, allows states and federal agencies to request that specific infrastructure projects receive a “high priority” designation from the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. If the project is granted the designation of “high priority,” it will undergo an expedited environmental review and approval process. In other words, the long, agonizing journey through the government’s red tape would be avoided. Will that really happen? If so, how many projects will qualify and where will those projects be located? What type of projects will get priority and how many states will seek the priority designation for their projects?

Lots of questions and an abundance of interest. Citizens, taxpayers, public officials, and contractors should have answers in the very near future.

Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S.