Regrettably, at $200 billion over the next decade, there’s not that much federal “oomph” behind President Donald Trump’s much-discussed $1.5 trillion plan for upgrading America’s declining networks of roads, rails, pipes and airports.
The plan that the president again touted during his State of the Union address is certainly needed. Visitors coming even to a great city in America from Shanghai would immediately wonder which place was part of the greatest nation in the world.
For every bump on Louisiana’s roads that are merely inconvenient, there are numerous bottlenecks — like where Interstate 10 narrows to one lane in downtown Baton Rouge — that are significant impediments to commerce.
The good news is that Louisiana officials, backed by the delegation in Congress and particularly the local congressman, Garret Graves of Baton Rouge, worked out a plan for the I-10 bottleneck during the Obama administration.
And this week, the state began a process of advancing some of its federal highway grants to bond out some big projects, including the new airport terminal exit on I-10 in New Orleans, and widening of the interstate through mid-town Baton Rouge.
Still, so much needs to be done in our state, and across the country, that the Trump plan as so far sketchily outlined is not likely to be an infrastructure game-changer.
Most of what Trump seeks is dependent on cities, states and the private sector spending most of the money for the $1.5 trillion. That’s going to put Louisiana in a particularly hard place: Because we’ve refused to raise new money for transportation for decades, the gasoline tax — the main source of funding — buys about half of what it used to in roads or bridges or other projects.
Rejection of a catch-up hike in the gasoline tax in the 2017 Legislature may be seen, in retrospect, as crippling Louisiana’s participation in whatever Trump funding does come down the road.
With organized labor and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we’d love to see more of a commitment to rebuilding America. We do not doubt for a second that the president, who is a lifelong property developer after all, wants to make real progress.
We just wonder if the dollars are there for Louisiana to benefit in particular. Even the new projects to be funded by the $600 million in bonds pushed by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration will be borrowing against future Federal Highway Administration grants. That’s not to say the bond plan is bad, but that it does have a long-term cost, a dozen years of reduced FHwA funding.
The president and Congress have to do better than what we’ve heard so far, and we hope they do.