President Trump unveiled details of his infrastructure spending plan on Monday, and at first glance, it appears that it would have wide-ranging impacts on transportation in the Washington, D.C. region.
The plan calls for boosts in spending for some transportation initiatives but cuts to others, with a heavy reliance on incentivizing spending from state and local governments and the private sector.
Congress will have its say on the proposed infrastructure plan, but let’s examine some of the potential impacts.
One of the biggest upshots is that Metro would lose some of its federal funding. The plan calls for a $120 million subsidy, down from $150 million, and comes at a time when many people were pushing for more federal assistance to stabilize the region’s public transportation system. The Washington Post reported that the White House had been considering scrapping the federal Metro subsidy altogether.
With less federal money, local jurisdictions may be under even more pressure to finally lock in a dedicated funding source for Metro.
And it’s not just Metro. Any local transit agency could be impacted here, as the Federal Transportation Administration historically spends $12 billion annually to support local public transit systems.
The White House infrastructure plan supports the idea of selling off federal assets. This means a transfer of ownership for certain roads, including the George Washington Parkway and Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which are controlled by the National Park Service.
The Washington Business Journal reported that a sale of either Parkway to a private entity could allow for land development along the roads, or even tolls.
Officials in Maryland were already in talks with the Park Service about the possibility of transferring ownership of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to the state, as part of a broad plan to add additional lanes to that road and the Capital Beltway.
Other Road Projects
We all assume that state and local jurisdictions fund their own road and other infrastructure projects, but the reality is that it’s common for them to seek some level of federal assistance. This often comes in the form of discretionary grants. For example, communities across America submitted 585 applications for federal TIGER grants, which in 2016 offered more than $9 billion in transportation funding.
Trump’s infrastructure plan appears to leave states and localities to fend for themselves and encourages more involvement from the private sector.
Maryland’s plan to widen the Capital Beltway and install express lanes, for example, calls for a private company to build and manage the project in exchange for toll revenue.
If Trump is serious about wanting to sell off federal assets, then he could eyeball Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan National Airport. While most airports in the U.S. are owned by governments, there has been a push to try and privatize many airports, as some European countries have done.
The theory here is that a private enterprise could run the airports more efficiently and “optimize taxpayer dollars.” It certainly remains to be seen whether the airports would get private suitors, and what impact that would have on the region and air travel in general.