Trump's infrastructure plan short on specifics

Published: Jun. 5, 2017 at 5:18 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2017 at 3:37 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19 NOW/AP) - Brent Spence Bridge, Western Hills Viaduct, specific waterways critical to to the tri-state's economy were all missing-in-action in President Donald Trump's infrastructure speech in Cincinnati Wednesday.

The president delivered a campaign rally-style speech at Cincinnati's Rivertowne Marina in front of an audience largely made up people with business and political ties. His visit to the tri-state area is part of the administration's week-long push for an overhaul of the nation's roads, bridges and waterways. However, Trump neglected to point to any specific project in the region, or the country, he wants to revitalize with his multi-billion dollar plan if it survives Congress.

Trump made the case for a massive investment in much-needed upgrades in the nation's waterways.

"Up to 20 percent of the nation's energy cargo relies on these channels," he said pointing to the Ohio River. "These locks and dams are more than half-a-century old, it continues to decay. capitol improvements have been massively underfunded."

$1 trillion is the goal, not the actual plan 

The president's plan calls for a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, a proposal similar to Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I, Vt.) when he ran for president. President Barack Obama called for an infrastructure stimulus in front of the Brent Spence Bridge in 2011. Both Obama and Sanders' plans involved an injection of federal dollars. Trump's plan mostly relies on private investments and states and cities to pick up the rest of tab.

Even if the president's goals are short of what Democrats would prefer, the White House could have a tough time selling the idea to some Republicans weary about big projects. His administration says the economic gains from revitalizing infrastructure begs for the multi-billion dollar push.

"Investing in infrastructure, means investing in jobs," Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said at the event. "Agriculture depends on this infrastructure to do business."

The president's outline in his proposed budget only offered a fractional down payment on revitalizing the country's aging infrastructure, offering $200 billion in federal money — a dramatic departure from President Dwight Eisenhower's mostly federal interstate highway project the plan cites as inspiration.

However, president budgets are only wish lists from the Oval Office. Congress needs to approve of the president's expensive request and no bill has been written. Rebuilding the country's highways, dams and airports is a sexy idea that could get Democrats on board. Some like Sanders and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown have openly invited the president to work across the aisle. Even if Democrats got over the heavy leaning on private investments, the effort would be a big-ask from fiscal conservatives.

The gorilla in the room: Brent Spence Bridge 

Even with infrastructure week in full-swing, the White House has offered few specifics on infrastructure outside of a six page fact sheet that mostly calls on cutting unspecified regulations and environmental rules to make infrastructure investments easier.

When Cincinnatians think about much-needed infrastructure investment, they usually think of one thing: The Brent Spence Bridge. The 53-year-old bridge carries about double the amount of vehicles it is built for daily which causes series delays and frequent collisions.

But despite the president mentioning one of the area's busiest travel corridors there have been virtually no signs of progress. He did not mention the bridge or any other projects in the area like the Western Hills Viaduct or specific waterway upgrades he wants to tackle.

"It's in such poor condition, it's functionally obsolete," Obama said about the bridge during his visit to Cincinnati in his first term. "The thing is, there are bridges and roads and highways like that throughout the region."

But waterways are also super important and are also in dire condition 

Inland waterways move roughly 51 million truckloads of goods every year, half of the country's locks are more than half-a-century old. The United States Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees most major water infrastructure, estimates $4.9 billion over the next 20 years is needed to make much-needed repairs for lock and dam facilities.

One of the biggest strains on waterway funding is the Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River near the Illinois border. The mammoth marine project one of the largest and most expensive water navigation installation the United States built. The $775 million effort was authorized in 1988 and is still under construction.

The Olmsted project survived after former President Barack Obama invested $12.3 billion into water infrastructure at the end of his presidency, securing the funds needed to complete construction while issuing another $100 billion annually for other projects.

American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 report gave the nation's waterways a D rating, citing half of vessels traveling billions of dollars consistently experience delays up to two hours.

The president's call for upgrades to water infrastructure was nowhere near any locks or dams. The nearest is the Captain Anthony Meldahl Locks and Dam in Clermont County, 27 miles from where the president spoke. However, that would be a trip for the president's motorcade from Lunken Airport.

But, wait, isn't Cincinnati a Sanctuary City? Are we getting funding or not? 

The sanctuary city issue seems dead, the president has not mentioned it in awhile.

Trump in January issued an executive order declaring a policy of cutting off jurisdictions that refuse to assist federal immigration authorities. The order puts transportation projects and other efforts on the chopping block which could have rippling effects across the nation but could also be contradictory to the president trying to seal an infrastructure deal.

Many major cities have defied the president, declaring themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. Which in most cases is not clearly defined what exactly that means, but isn't typically policy.

In cases like Cincinnati's, the city simply does not delegate immigration enforcement to local police and puts all the weight on federal agents. Mayor John Cranley and his opponent in the mayoral race Yvette Simpson both say undocumented immigrants arrested for major crimes are handed over to immigration authorities.

The federal government has not enforced the president's call for restricting federal funds. There's also no evidence the Republican-controlled Congress have taken any steps to yank funding.

Comey, Maybe  

Trump kicking-off infrastructure week adds to a colossal pileup in Congress: Right now, Lawmakers running into a potentially bruising fight over whether to raise the debt ceiling, a tough pill to swallow for conservatives, to overt a potential financial crisis this summer. Health care is stalled in the Senate and a tax reform bill is absent.

The uncertainty of the president's domestic agenda makes it possible Congress will leave for the August recess without any legislative victories.

Piled on to the gridlock is James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday which has turned into a political super bowl with television networks plan to interrupt regular programming to air it.

The ousted FBI director is expected to talk about his conversation with Trump, who allegedly asked Comey to terminate the FBI's investigation into the president's tied to Russia.

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