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AASHTO Journal

Ryan, Shuster See Infrastructure Investment Plan Emerging in Spring Budget Proposals

Key lawmakers said they see a Republican infrastructure investment package coming this spring with broader budget proposals, which would put it after the initial first months of the Trump administration but give policymakers more time to determine its shape and cost.

And in a series of news interviews, congressional GOP leaders made clear they expect incoming President Trump to continue to press for a major program of infrastructure improvements.

capitol0816.jpgHouse Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told radio show host Hugh Hewitt Jan. 4 that that he expects to address the infrastructure package in a "spring budget."

Asked how large it will be, Ryan said, "I don't know the answer to that, yet. No one knows the answer to that, yet." The Speaker said its size would partly be a function of budget planning and partly of regulatory reforms Republicans want to implement "so that the transportation dollars stretch as far as possible."

Ryan said the package "also will be focused on leveraging private sector dollars so that it's not just the public sector taxpayer, the taxpayer that's on the hook."

The Hill newspaper reported that House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said Congress will work on finding ways to pay for the infrastructure plan in the first few months after Trump becomes president Jan. 20, and that the broader package is likely to come together later in the spring.

"We're going to start to work on it, but first of all, you've got to figure out the pay-fors, which will come, I believe, in the first 100 days," Shuster told the publication Jan. 4. "Then in the next second 100 days is when we'll put together a big infrastructure package."

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who now chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that oversees the Department of Transportation and its budget, told reporters that Trump officials "want to have a pretty ambitious agenda in terms of infrastructure."

Thune scheduled a nomination hearing on Jan. 11 for Elaine Chao, the former labor secretary and past USDOT official who is Trump's pick to be transportation secretary and who would administer much of any new infrastructure program. Chao's husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would also play a key role in getting an infrastructure bill through the Senate.

Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said since the Trump administration and Congress could soon push through a historic investment package state DOT officials will work in the next few months to make sure policymakers hear their views.

Wright said those state agencies can best deliver  projects if the administration and Congress provide new funding through established allocation formulas that let states decide where to apply the money to best meet their regional and local needs.

"People throughout the country clearly see the need for stronger investments in transportation projects that go well beyond the levels current programs provide," he told the AASHTO Journal. "They want better highways, bridges, transit services, bike and walk paths, intercity rail, waterways and airports. To get them, we welcome more private investment and regulatory changes that speed projects along, but the nation simply needs more new funding as well to tackle a huge backlog of important mobility projects."

Wright also said the broad support for an infrastructure package presents an opportunity to permanently bolster the government's largest transportation investment pool so that it does not run dry every few years.

"We'd love to see President Trump and Congress seize this chance to finally fix the Highway Trust Fund and find a sustainable revenue stream for road, transit and multimodal projects," he said. "Then we could do away with the risk of new funding crises erupting every few years that disrupt construction programs."

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