Infrastructure Plan and Manufacturing: Details, Please

In his speech to organized labor Monday in Milwaukee, President Obama provided a brief outline of a proposal to increase federal investment in transportation infrastructure.

The National Association of Manufacturers’ policy guide and call to action, the “Manufacturing Strategy for Jobs and a Competitive America,” placed federal investment in infrastructure high on the NAM’s list of policy priorities (see the extended entry below), so we were anxious to find out more about the President’s plan.

A frustrating search…

WhiteHouse.gov posted “Renewing and Expanding America’s Roads, Railways, and Runways,” a 2-1/2 page “fact sheet” that served as talking points.

The document raised many questions, answered few. For example, in the proleptic bullet points about “tangible accomplishments,” there was this: “ROADS: Rebuild 150,000 miles of roads – renewing our commitment to the backbone of our transportation system…”

“Rebuild” is often used as a code word, telling environmental groups that no dollars will spent on new construction or additional capacity.  New roads to ease congestion and improve the efficiency of freight transportation by trucks? Not in the plans. Maybe that wasn’t the intention, but given the paucity of information, it’s a reasonable conclusion to draw.

Then, following the bullet point about the $50 billion in “upfront investment” came this paragraph:

A vision for the future. The President proposes to pair this with a long-term framework to reform and expand our nation’s investment in transportation infrastructure. Since the end of last year, when the last long-term surface transportation legislation expired, these investments have been continued on a temporary basis, even as the trust fund to finance them has fallen into insolvency. If we are to enjoy the benefits that come from a worldclass transportation system, Congress must enact a long-term reauthorization that expands and reforms our infrastructure investments and returns the transportation trust fund to solvency.

This is a good idea, a definite priority, finally getting to Congressional reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs. The last  “highway bill” — SAFETEA-LU — expired on Sept. 30, 2009, and Congress has only managed to enact temporary extensions since. A six-year reauthorization as the President mentioned would provide certainty for planning and funding purposes.

So we look for details. The Department of Transportation or the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) would surely have more details about the Administration proposed re-authorization, one might think.

Not that we can find. The FHwA site prominently promotes infrastructure projects paid for by last year’s stimulus bill, but there’s no reference to the President’s plan.

As for www.dot.gov, there’s nothing on the home page. The only mention we find of the President’s “historic announcement”  comes in Transportation Secretary LaHood’s Fast Lane blog, a post from Tuesday, “President proposes new jobs, renewed infrastructure.” But the post is just a reaffirmation of the President’s basic argument, providing no additional detail. Secretary LaHood concludes, “New jobs, renewed infrastructure, and a new model for transportation investments–it sounds like a lot of work to me. And I, for one, am ready.”

No doubt. But without a substantive proposal — at the very least, a document that lays out a more detailed plan for a six-year reauthorization — Congress and backers of robust infrastructure investment have nothing to rally to. What are we being asked to support?

It’s as if the proposal were designed not for policy, but for politics.

From page five of the NAM’s Manufacturing Strategy:

Leave a Reply