Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 6.5.19
Just Outside Washington


On American Infrastructure

During his campaign in 2016, Donald Trump promised to make a huge, HUGE investment in infrastructure and that the private sector would invest through public-private partnerships. (Note: You know what public private-partnerships are; that is when a road is built, like the Express Lanes on I-495 near me, and the company involved charges users a toll; the tolls go up with traffic volume and over time.

Well nothing has been done in the last two years on infrastructure.

Recently, President Trump met with the Democratic leaders of Congress and decided to develop a $2 trillion dollar infrastructure program. (Senator Mitch McConnell did not participate because he was too busy packing the U.S. court system with conservatives recommended by the Federalist Society.) The $2 trillion dollar infrastructure program has gone nowhere, so far. If a program is to move forward it will need major funding from the federal government, even if public private partnerships are a major part.

Funding will be difficult, Congress has not found the backbone to raise the federal gas tax (it was last raised in 1993 and is it not indexed to inflation). The gas tax funds the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which was established in 1982 to fund transportation infrastructure.

Since 2008, to make up for chronic funding deficits, Congress has moved $143 billion in general taxpayer dollars to the HTF and unless Congress intervenes again, the HTF will be insolvent by 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

As far as rescinding some of the 2017 tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthy to help pay for infrastructure, Senator Mitch McConnell has said that is not going to happen. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact the both Mitch and his wife are multi-millionaires.

The article is not very long and makes some salient points about changing our approach to infrastructure. The point about the extensive and expensive of up-front planning and engineering work for these projects echoes my experience developing waste management and recycling projects. The up-front work for a recycling plant or waste-to-energy power plant takes years and millions of dollars.

Siting studies, environmental impact studies, preliminary engineering, and development of procurement specifications and contracts are all required before a project is 'shovel ready'. Of course all these efforts produce reports, which must be presented and approved by local and state governments. Needless to say the public must be informed and register their opinions, as well. With waste projects the operative view of the public is: /not in my backyard'.

In waste management projects, as in all infrastructure, there is a basic problem with regard to money. The cost of the projects is up-front and in-your-face' however, the pay back is long term and the benefits are spread over many people who do not feel the immediate costs of the development.

One further point from my experience in developing waste management projects; politicians are always involved. If the project requires the maintenance of existing facilities, the is no glamour for politicians and they won't show up. However, if the ribbon cutting on a big new shiny project is required, politicians will always be there, but the politician that bit the bullet and supported the project way back when, will have been voted out of office long ago.