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Infrastructure Plan Stalled

May 9, 2018
Originally published on May 9, 2018 8:35 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

If you're listening to us as you're commuting to work, was that a pothole you just hit? Wouldn't be surprised. Because it's pothole season across large parts of the United States, it's that time of year when gaping pits open up in the pavement after the long winter. Those potholes serve as a reminder of the need to fix and rebuild infrastructure. But President Trump's plan, which was announced with great fanfare three months ago, now appears to be stalled. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Margaret Leonard (ph) loves driving a semi tractor-trailer rig across the middle of the country.

MARGARET LEONARD: It's the best job I could ever do. I don't want to ever do anything else.

SCHAPER: Leonard says she finds the time to herself to listen to music or books soothing, unless she's driving over crumbling roads.

LEONARD: The potholes, the missing chunks. It's just - it's horrible. It's absolutely horrible.

SCHAPER: It's so bad, it's costing Leonard and her employer money.

LEONARD: The mudflaps on my truck, as simple as that, they fall off on a constant basis because the constant rattling and jolting rips the bolts out. And it happens all the time.

SCHAPER: In fact, after filling her rig with diesel here at the World's Largest Truckstop, along Interstate 80 in Walcott, Iowa, Leonard was taking her truck to maintenance again to have mudflaps put back on. She and some other truckers here say they're willing to pay higher gas taxes to fix and replace aging roads and bridges. The American Trucking Association is calling for a gas tax increase of 20 cents a gallon. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants an even bigger increase, 25 cents a gallon over five years. The reason? The federal tax of 18.4 cents a gallon on unleaded hasn't been raised in 25 years so it doesn't buy as much steel, concrete and asphalt as it used to.

JEFF DAVIS: The general consensus is that the buying power of this gasoline tax dropped by at least a third since it was last increased in the Clinton administration in 1993.

SCHAPER: Jeff Davis of the nonpartisan Eno Center on Transportation says, in addition, with cars and trucks becoming more efficient, there's less fuel being pumped and taxed, meaning even less money for the Highway Trust Fund. And, without a fix, it could run dry in three years. But President Trump's infrastructure plan doesn't address that problem at all. The president is calling for $200 billion in new infrastructure spending over 10 years, but without identifying where that money would come from. The administration claims that $200 billion would attract huge increases in state and local funding and private investments in infrastructure to raise a total of $1.5 trillion.

PETER DEFAZIO: It was an absurdity to begin with, and it's, you know, it's nonexistent. It was never real.

SCHAPER: That's Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He says the president's plan is going nowhere, even in the GOP, and congressional efforts to come up with a different infrastructure plan fall short.

DEFAZIO: Funding is absolutely critical, and there is the rub.

SCHAPER: Many Republicans continue to oppose any hike in the gas tax, and because of that, even the president acknowledges an infrastructure plan he promised to pass within his first 100 days will now likely have to wait until at least after the midterm elections in November. David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.