A break or a break up?

May 1, 2018

Trump seems to favor more at the rural level

With Rev. Billy Graham lying in state about 50 ft away, President Donald Trump decided to take the tunnel route instead of meeting at his infamous border wall.

It was there in a green room right off the Capitol rotunda that had the world’s most renown preacher on display where Trump threatened the life of the omnibus spending bill to House Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump told Ryan that if there is a single dollar earmarked for the Gateway Tunnel project he would veto the budget measure entirely. The Wisconsin lawmaker must have been beside himself. I mean, if anything Ryan probably thought Trump would lace up the boxing gloves in defense of his border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, or even DACA. Nope, the Gateway Tunnel was engraved on this hit list, and the move felt like an uppercut to the face to many members of Congress.

The Gateway Tunnel is a transit line that runs between New Jersey and New York under the Hudson River. The tunnel, however, is over 100 years old and really does not have much life left. The rail line is responsible for carrying hundreds of thousands of commuters each day, and many say the Gateway Tunnel generates 20% of the economy in the New York-New Jersey region.

The cost to replace the tube has been marked at $20 billion, and exactly who was going to pay for it was under debate and scrutiny for years. Last September after a meeting at the White House with President Trump and other infrastructure powerhouses, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) walked away thinking the Gateway Tunnel project was a done deal. He was wrong, so he attempted to rub a little healing ointment on his pride at a hearing with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in early March. Schumer attacked Chao with a barrage of verbal left and right jabs, but Chao refused to go down, essentially saying nothing was officially agreed upon regarding the Gateway Tunnel project. She was right.

The Washington Post’s weekly podcast, “Can He Do That?” which shadowboxes with the Trump presidency, outlines this whole Gateway funding mess in a neat 30-minute audio package. Host Martine Powers believes the Trump administration has opened up a General Store for rural communities when it comes to highway and bridge spending. Powers points out that in the recent round of TIGER grants, 64% of the money went to rural projects. In the past, the average was 25%. The Wall Street Journal also reported more than two-thirds of TIGER awards were delivered to counties who voted for Trump.

It’s a dramatic shift from the traditional approach of feeding the large metro areas and seeing what drops down to the bottom. Powers says it is working, and cities and states are coming up with more innovative ways to fund these megaprojects on their own, especially on the transit side. I disagree. While it is good to see that states and cities are not rolling up in a ball here, the federal government still needs to fulfill its role of moving the nation’s economy. Urban centers are the golden apples of this mission. The recent development is a scary one, because there continues to be a loud and impressionable group in Washington trying to amputate the federal funding arm for road and bridge projects. However, you can only tax the locals so much before they want someone to read you your last rites.

About The Author: Wilson is editorial director of Roads & Bridges.

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