AASHTO Journal, 22 December 2016
President-elect Donald Trump looks to create an infrastructure “task force,” the Washington Post reported, to help implement the major infrastructure investment program he has vowed to pursue when he takes office in January.
The Post, citing several sources briefed on the plans, said senior Trump team members are in discussions on the initiative. The story said key members include Trump’s “son-in-law Jared Kushner, senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon, senior adviser Stephen Miller and Gary Cohn, whom Trump has tapped to head the National Economic Council.”
The report came as some observers had begun to wonder if Trump was moving the infrastructure investment initiative lower on his priority list of goals to achieve early in his administration.
It also arrived near the 25th anniversary of another major piece of transportation legislation, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act that President George H.W. Bush signed into law on Dec. 18, 1991. That six-year measure, which Congress passed after states had largely built out the initial map of the Interstate Highway System, authorized funding for highway projects, highway safety and transit programs but also provided a sweeping restructuring of federal surface transportation program.
ISTEA devoted more funding to multimodal projects and gave more authority to states and local planning agencies to spend Highway Trust Fund dollars on what they saw as the best mix of transportation projects regardless of the travel modes involved. It mandated installation of airbags in new passenger vehicles, authorized funds for a number of nonmotorized trails and intelligent highway systems, allowed private entities to own toll roads and called for designation of up to five high-speed passenger rail corridors.
After signing the far-reaching bill into law, Bush met the same day in Dallas with the Policy Committee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas. “This law will make a huge difference for all of us,” he told the group. “It will help young fathers rush their wives to a delivery room. It will enable buses to ferry children safely and swiftly to school. It will help just-in-time manufacturers receive the parts they need when they need them. It will keep America where it belongs – in the passing lane.”
To put his own mark on transportation with a historic-sized investment program, Trump could reportedly find common ground with many congressional Democrats but might need to overcome reluctance among Republican majority members who either worry about how to pay for it or who want to avoid backing a big new spending plan.
But the Post report said Trump’s team has spoken with potential candidates to head the task force, which would operate below the Cabinet level to coordinate among federal, state, local officials and private investors.
AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright said that organization and state department of transportation officials around the country are ready to help the Trump transition team and the reported task force develop its plans, in order to tackle the major investment needs throughout the transportation system.
Wright said that 25 years ago, “Congress and the president through the ISTEA law were able to craft major transportation legislation that still represents a shining example of what Washington can accomplish to build a stronger economy and a more mobile society.”
He added: “We look forward to Washington doing so again, to begin truly investing at the levels needed to fix our aging networks and to curb the time-wasting congestion people face each day. And we look forward to seeing President Trump fulfill his jobs-creating infrastructure promise, and sign into law next year a measure that really fixes the Highway Trust Fund, provides sustainable funding across travel modes and meets the transportation needs of America. That would be a historic legacy for any president.”