Trump and Transportation

Are more ambitious projects on the horizon under a Trump presidency?

By Kellyn Brown

This Thanksgiving I didn’t travel for the holidays, although upwards of 47 million people did. They piled into cars and trains and planes. They journeyed long distances for the biggest meal of the year and perhaps to argue with their uncle about politics.

Parts of President-elect Donald Trump’s politics remain unclear, but one common theme — a bipartisan one, to boot — is that he wants to invest heavily in infrastructure. How heavily is open to interpretation and discussion. Transportation matters a lot to our state and uniquely to this region.

Montana has more public road miles than there are interstate miles in the entire country, and the transportation department is one of the state’s largest recipients of federal funding. We’re a big state with lots of far-flung towns, and plenty of the roads connecting them need work. The recently opened Kalispell Bypass, the largest single transportation project in the state’s history, was a bipartisan success story. Every level of our elected government, from local to state to federal, both Republicans and Democrats, had a hand in its completion.

Are more ambitious projects on the horizon under a Trump presidency?

On his website, Trump vows to invest $550 billion to build a “reliable and efficient transportation network,” including improvements to roads, airports and railways. Reports since the election, however, have Trump touting a $1 trillion plan that would rely on tax credits that would presumably attract private investments in infrastructure projects.

Whether this works, or the federal government foots much of the bill, will be determined when Trump takes office. But I doubt he drops the plan. Trump loves to build things. He talked about it constantly on the campaign trail and highlighted it at his victory speech.

Since his election, his plan has already received pushback, and largely from conservative groups. The total price tag, after all, is about $170 million more than the stimulus President Barack Obama and Democrats passed when he first took office. (On a side note, the stimulus provided key federal funding for the bypass).

“Conservatives do not view infrastructure spending as an economic stimulus, and congressional Republicans rightly rejected that approach in 2009,” Dan Holler, spokesman for the group Heritage Action for America, recently told Politico.

There’s also some concern from the National Association of Railroad Passengers because, if the plan relies heavily on private funding, it will work better for infrastructure that makes money like toll roads and airports, and unlike Amtrak, which is important to the Flathead Valley — especially Whitefish — and is subsidized.

Nonetheless, new Amtrak President and CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman appears hopeful about Trump’s plan, especially in regard to potential improvements to rail services in the president-elect’s hometown. The New York Post is already touting the potential for $23 billion in federal funds to build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River.

The direction of Trump’s lofty infrastructure goal may come into focus once his transportation secretary takes office. One trillion, whether through federal dollars or private investment, still goes a long way. Yes, he may receive pushback from members of his own party in Congress who will rightfully describe it as a second stimulus.

But Trump might not care. He campaigned on this plan being implemented within his first 100 days in office. And there’s little he loves more than to boast about his beautiful infrastructure.

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