AASHTO Journal

White House Brings in State DOT Officials, Others to Discuss Infrastructure Plans

Senior Trump administration officials met Aug. 30 at the White House complex with various infrastructure stakeholders including executives from 27 state departments of transportation, as the Trump team continues to develop plans for a major investment proposal.

The officials made no major announcements, according to participants, but as they had signaled in their invitation they continued a discussion of principles that will guide the president's infrastructure proposal. The speakers again indicated they are close to completing the process, but offered no specific dates for announcing an investment plan, participants said.

Addressing the estimated 150 visitors were Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Special Assistant to the President for Infrastructure D.J. Gribbin and Alex Herrgott, the White House Council on Environmental Quality's associate director for infrastructure.

While Trump campaigned on a pledge to propose $1 trillion in new spending on infrastructure, and often cited transportation investment needs, his administration has so far said it wants to use $200 billion in direct federal funding over a decade to leverage an additional $800 billion in state, local and private investment.

dollarpump.jpgAt a part of the Aug. 30 meeting that was open to press coverage, The Hill newspaper reported that Mulvaney said the administration now wants to break the president's infrastructure package into three pieces, and that "the largest piece of the package is going to be wrapped around incentives" to woo nonfederal investment.

The budget chief also said that "we're talking about targeting some of the money just for rural projects," and some of the direct federal funding on "transformative" projects that use new ways to build infrastructure.

Reuters reported that Chao said the plan is not yet final but that states and cities that secure some private-sector financing "will be given higher-priority access to new federal funds."

And Mulvaney, Reuters said, told the group that the administration wants to give states and cities "incentives to move stuff you might own off of your books and into the private sector," which he said would result in them "getting more money to do new stuff."

Ahead of the meeting, some state DOT executives gave Transportation TV their views on the talks with the administration on its still-developing proposal.

"I think it's great that they've been engaging with us," said Maine DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt, adding that the Trump team has brought in state agency officials several times.

Noting the role those state officials play in routing infrastructure dollars into actual projects, he said the administration's engagement "sets a good tone, because we're the ones who are going to make it happen . . . we're the ones who put the projects out."

William Panos, director of the Wyoming DOT, said he wanted to encourage Trump officials to "continue their work toward regulatory reform" and toward "a budget which will focus on formula-based funding and some discretionary funding as well."

Panos said that for a largely rural state like Wyoming, federal formula funding – which is disbursed through the federal-aid highway program – is "particularly important" to helping WYDOT maintain its highway system, while federal discretionary funds like grants for specific projects can help as well.

South Carolina Transportation Secretary Christy Hall noted that her state through a recently passed revenue measure is adding more funding of its own for transportation improvements. It is, she said, "a good amount of state funding being brought to the table, and we're anxious to see what the president has at the federal level to help bring the pieces of the puzzle together for us in South Carolina.

And Shailen Bhatt, the Colorado DOT's executive director, emphasized that transportation investment needs cross party lines. "I feel like this is, hopefully, one area where Democrats and Republicans can come together to say infrastructure is a bipartisan issue. And so, whatever the vehicle is . . . hopefully we can find a path forward."

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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