Will Trump’s plan reverse the deterioration?

Executive Summary

President Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail last year to launch a $1 trillion program to regenerate the country’s infrastructure. Few dispute the need for a major investment: The Flint water crisis, a 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse and the 2003 Northeast blackout show the dangers of neglecting infrastructure. But there are questions about Trump’s approach, which would rely heavily on tax benefits for private investors who help finance projects. This method appeals to his fellow Republicans who control Congress. But many experts and Democratic lawmakers say federal money is needed as well.

As the debate begins, here are some key takeaways:

  • The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S.’s infrastructure a grade of D+ in 2013.

  • Trump’s plan is likely to rely heavily on public-private partnerships to provide the needed funding.

  • The public supports greater infrastructure spending; 69 percent told Gallup pollsters a major program in that area was very important.

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Resources for Further Study



Bakke, Gretchen, “The Grid,” Bloomsbury, 2016. A cultural anthropologist and professor at McGill University in Montreal examines the haphazard evolution and growth of the electric grid in the United States, and how both aging components and new technologies threaten it.

Bernstein, Peter L., “Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation,” W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005. The late financial historian detailed the political, financial and engineering challenges that stood in the way of constructing the Erie Canal, as well as the rewards New York and the rest of the world reaped when it was completed.

Petroski, Henry, “The Road Taken,” Bloomsbury, 2016. A Duke University professor of engineering examines the origins of the United States’ infrastructure crisis and the difficulties policy makers have confronted when trying to fix it.

Swift, Earl, “The Big Roads,” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. A former Virginia journalist retraces the history of the interstate highway system, from the advent of the automobile until the completion of the system in 1992, with a special emphasis on the people who made it happen.


Formby, Brandon, “Texans Fear Trump’s Highways Plan Will Create More Toll Roads,” The Texas Tribune, Nov. 25, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/z9m8vs3. In a state that already uses toll roads heavily, residents are wary of plans to encourage even more of them.

Sommerhauser, Mark, “As Donald Trump Eyes Infrastructure Spending, State Leaders Assess Impact for Wisconsin,” LaCrosse Tribune, Dec. 31, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hbp4lct. Wisconsin legislators, who are debating how to find new state money for transportation, weigh in on how, or whether, Trump’s interest in infrastructure will affect their actions.

Vock, Daniel C., “In Flint’s Aftermath, Water Will Run by New Rules,” Governing, September 2016, http://tinyurl.com/j5qjuqq. A report examines what lessons government leaders can take away from the Flint water crisis, and the difficulty of removing lead from drinking water.

Wolfe, Kathryn A., and Lauren Gardner, “Conservatives vs. Trump’s Infrastructure Plan,” Politico, Nov. 11, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hoo3r3p. Reporters offer a look at the ideological divide within the Republican Party over the wisdom of a new federal infrastructure initiative, particularly as a way to stimulate the economy.

Reports and Studies

“2013 Report Card on America’s Infrastructure,” American Society of Civil Engineers, http://tinyurl.com/c796yj. The association gives its latest report on the condition of highways, bridges, water systems, schools and other infrastructure in need of repair or modernization.

“Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge,” American Water Works Association, Feb. 27, 2012, http://tinyurl.com/bou9svq. The water industry group concludes that the country will have to spend $1 trillion before 2035 to add new water mains and replace old ones.

“Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future,” American Society of Civil Engineers, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jag3wmh. The association outlines the economic costs of subpar infrastructure.

“Financial Structuring and Assessment for Public–Private Partnerships: A Primer,” Office of Innovative Program Delivery, Federal Highway Administration, December 2013, http://tinyurl.com/z3au23l. A wonky walk through the world of public-private partnerships from the federal government, with insightful data.

“Privatization, Waste and Unfunded Projects: The Problems with Trump’s Infrastructure Proposal,” Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, November 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hegz5xh. Liberal budget experts outline several objections to the Trump campaign’s infrastructure proposal.

“Public Spending on Transportation and Water Infrastructure, 1956 to 2014,” Congressional Budget Office, March 2015, http://tinyurl.com/hlqr47v. The CBO explains how federal, state and local governments spent $416 billion on transportation and water infrastructure in 2014, and includes some historical data.

“Ramping Up Mississippi’s Economy Through Transportation,” Mississippi Economic Council, December 2015, http://tinyurl.com/hh2ngrh. The state chamber of commerce makes an economic case for more state revenue for transportation improvements.

Greenberg, Scott, “Reexamining the Tax Exemption of Municipal Bond Interest,” Tax Foundation, July 21, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hshv56f. A conservative economist makes the case that tax credits for municipal bond interest give localities incentives to overinvest in infrastructure and disproportionately benefit high-income taxpayers.

Maguire, Steven, and Jeffrey M. Stupak, “Tax-Exempt Bonds: A Description of State and Local Government Debt,” Congressional Research Service, Jan. 9, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/zxod2l9. This report for lawmakers explains why governments issue municipal bonds, how often they are used, and how much the tax credits cost the federal government in lost revenue and other issues.

Ross, Wilbur, and Peter Navarro, “Trump Versus Clinton On Infrastructure,” Donald J. Trump for President, Oct. 27, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/z9vx6xr. This paper includes the most detail yet of President Trump’s infrastructure plans. It also includes criticism of the efficiency of municipal bonds.

White, Adam J., “Infrastructure Policy: Lessons from American History,” The New Atlantis, Spring 2012, http://tinyurl.com/h4lmquv. A conservative legal scholar follows major infrastructure initiatives from the time of George Washington to Barack Obama.

The Next Step

Infrastructure Problems

“NC ranks among worst in U.S. for structurally deficient bridges,” WSOC-TV, Feb. 2, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/zc9d4yu. Thousands of North Carolina bridges either don’t meet current design standards or have critical portions in poor condition, due in part to lack of funding.

Garfield, Leanna, “Obama’s Secretary of Transportation reveals 3 infrastructure problems that Trump needs to solve,” Business Insider, Jan. 29, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/z8a35du. Former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the Trump administration should focus on repairing mass transit systems so the nation can better accommodate a growing population and provide more transportation options.

Liptak, Andrew, “Poor US roads mean FedEx is going through tires twice as fast,” The Verge, Feb. 4, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/hjdmled. FedEx CEO Fred Smith urged Congress to improve America’s infrastructure, citing the impact of the country’s deteriorating roadways on his company’s trucks, which are using twice as many tires as they did 20 years ago.

Transit Projects

Andersen, Travis, “Green Line extension makes Trump’s infrastructure list,” Boston Globe, Jan. 25, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/hogeav7. A $2.3 billion expansion of Boston’s transit system made it onto President Trump’s list of priority infrastructure projects.

Murray, Jon, “Massive transit-oriented housing project in Elyria-Swansea could build 560 homes near stock show,” The Denver Post, Jan. 29, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/zspjce3. Plans are underway for a large-scale, mixed-income Denver housing development positioned along an anticipated mass transit line.

Slowey, Kim, “Los Angeles Metro considering P3s to accelerate transit project schedules,” Construction Dive, Feb. 6, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/j9gfwfd. The Los Angeles County Metrorail system is considering using public-private partnerships to help fund at least two transit projects; officials said the partnerships could reduce the projects’ timelines by 14 to 15 years.

Trump Administration

Dube, Elliot T., “Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Could Create 11 Million Jobs,” Bloomberg BNA, Jan. 13, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/zjavtgs. President Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan could help create 11 million jobs, more than half of which would go to workers with a high school education or less, according to a report.

Popken, Ben, “Trump Meets Labor Union Heads and Promises to Build,” NBC News, Jan. 24, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/j5d2kfd. President Trump emphasized his desire to use private-sector investments to fund infrastructure development during a meeting with heads of the country’s labor unions.

Zanona, Melanie, “Study: Urban areas more likely to benefit under Trump-style infrastructure plan,” The Hill, Feb. 2, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/gqfvmjm. A new study found that using private investors to finance highway projects would benefit urban roadways over rural ones because more densely populated areas have more traffic and the potential to bring in greater revenue.

Water Safety

Berman, Mark, and Brady Dennis, “Flint water falls below federal lead limits, but residents are still asked to use filtered water,” The Washington Post, Jan. 24, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/zlktzqj. Officials are advising Flint, Mich., residents to continue using filtered drinking water, despite new testing that found lead levels are within federal limits.

McKelvey, Wallace, “Poor drinking water oversight could have ‘serious public health implications’ for Pennsylvanians, EPA says,” Penn Live, Feb. 1, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/hk53o5d. Federal regulators gave Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection 60 days to outline a plan to address problems in its enforcement of the state’s safe drinking water standards.

Pignataro, T.J., “Cuomo proposes $2 billion water infrastructure plan,” The Buffalo News, Jan. 10, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/z2btbd3. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed investing $2 billion in the state’s aging municipal drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.


American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
444 North Capitol St., N.W., #249, Washington, DC 20001
Interest group representing state transportation directors that also sets design standards for highways and equipment.

American Society for Civil Engineers
1801 Alexander Bell Drive, Reston, VA 20191
Interest group that publishes the Infrastructure Report Card every four years and advocates for increased infrastructure spending by governments.

American Water Works Association
6666 W. Quincy Ave., Denver, CO 80235
Interest and educational group for the water industry.

Building America’s Future Educational Fund
1101 K St., N.W., Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005
Coalition of elected officials focused on improving infrastructure to help the economy and environment.

Eno Center for Transportation
710 Rhode Island Ave., N.W., Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036
Think tank that researches all modes of transportation.

National Association of City Transportation Officials
120 Park Ave., 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10017
Organization of city-based transportation professionals, emphasizes the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and transit users in street design.

U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., S.E., Washington, DC 20590
Federal agency responsible for regulating, planning and funding transportation efforts.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20460
The federal government’s environmental regulatory agency.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680305.n1