Editorial: Federal Transportation Funding Under Trump

Will cities and states have to leverage private investment instead of federal transportation funding for the next wave of transportation projects?


2016 was a strong year for federal transportation funding under President Barrack Obama. And since the November election, there has been a lot of speculation about whom Donald Trump, president-elect for 45th president of the United States, would pick for the top job in transportation and what will happen to this funding.

Just after Thanksgiving, the transition team announced an unexpected choice for the next transportation secretary in Elaine L. Chao, wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, the republican majority leader.

If confirmed, transportation speculators could be right that federal transportation funding will rely on private sector investments. She has experience in such financing while at Citicorp, according to the New York Times. Cities and states may experience higher federal priority on 20th-century toll road proposals rather than the kind of transportation investments made under outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

According to those knowledgeable about federal transportation funding -- like Stephanie Pollack, the Massachusetts transportation secretary, who recently discussed transportation funding under Trump on RadioBoston -- and others, it’s not likely that the next administration will back out on individual project financing commitments or grant awards made under the current Department of Transportation.

But it could. It’s really anyone’s guess.

What might happen is that cities and states will have to leverage federal transportation funding differently. The next wave of transportation projects, like the ones voters just approved local investment for, may require public-private partnerships (P3s), where private investment is made available through billions in federal tax credits instead of federal transportation grants or direct funding under the TIGER program or FAST Act.

After all, Senator McConnell -- Chao’s husband -- did reiterate on November 9th that infrastructure is not a priority for the Senate. And Mike Pence, vice president-elect, who wants the Fed out of transportation, said before Chao was announced that there are a lot of ways to fund Trump’s trillion dollar infrastructure proposal -- P3s, private capital, etc.

Andrea Fox is Editor of Gov1.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.

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