President Trump Wants to Revitalize Infrastructure. But His Budget Could Make It Worse
President Donald Trump says he wants to rebuild “crumbling infrastructure” in the U.S., but his 2018 budget suggests otherwise.
A budget blueprint released by the White House on Thursday details a preliminary plan to cut substantial funding for a number of federal agencies, including a 13% decrease in spending — roughly $2.4 billion — for the Department of Transportation (DOT). The president reportedly instructed his White House team to begin crafting a plan for his $1 trillion infrastructure legislation last week, according to the Wall Street Journal, but Thursday’s budget outline makes no mention of the initiative. Instead, several popular transit programs headed by the DOT stand to lose funding.
Trump’s proposal, which the Administration touts as an “America First” budget, has been criticized as “dead on arrival” by some Republican lawmakers. Congress will ultimately write its own budget, which will look very different, though some of Trump’s ideas may make it into the final version.
One of those ideas is to eliminate federal subsidies for Amtrak’s long-distance train service, “which long have been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses,” according to the document. “This would allow Amtrak to focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train services,” the document adds.
Amtrak’s long-distance routes service nearly half the stations in the Amtrak system and offer the only Amtrak service in 23 of the 46 states the railroad company manages, according to Amtrak’s official website.
“These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and state-supported services,” Wick Moorman, President and CEO of Amtrak, said in a prepared statement, according to trade magazine Progressive Railroading. “Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently — we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in [fiscal year 2016] — but these services all require federal investment.”
If the budget is approved, Amtrak’s long-distance train service would likely fold since those routes are “generally not profitable,” the Associated Press reports.
Other train systems could be defunded if Trump’s budget plan goes through. The Federal Transit Administration, an agency within the DOT that works to provide technical and financial assistance to public transit systems, stands to receive cuts to its Capital Investment Program for rail, streetcar, and rapid bus transit projects across the country. But according to Trump’s budget proposal, the government will only continue funding the multi-year construction projects it’s already committed to.
The DOT’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, one of the most popular federal transit programs that provides funds for capital projects in both urban and rural areas, will lose nearly a half-billion in funding under the 2018 budget blueprint. Since 2009, the TIGER grant has provided more than $5 billion for over 400 projects including interstate highway construction across all 50 states, Washington D.C., several U.S. territories, and a number of tribal communities, the DOT’s website states.
The president’s administration also wants to nix funding for Essential Air Service, a government program that ensures remote communities receive access to a number of flights from certified airlines. The budget proposal argues that these flights are “not full” enough to warrant the costs. The cut would save the government $175 million.
“It’s shocking to cut back rural subsidies, where [Trump] won the most votes,” Mitchell L. Moss, professor of urban policy and planning and director of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation, told Fortune in an interview. “There are small towns in America that depend on air service that is subsidized by the federal government.
Moss added that a strong economy stems from a view that infrastructure is a “bipartisan investment.”
“Maritime, aviation, rail networks and highways all contribute to U.S. productivity, and it’s surprising to see cuts to the infrastructure budget instead of adding to it. Transit is essential to the country’s well-being — nowhere is that more apparent than in D.C., where the mass transit has suffered for decades,” he said.