February 5, 2018
Infrastructure was a significant topic of discussion during the president’s 2018 State of the Union address. The administration has been teasing an infrastructure plan for over a year, but this year’s SOTU, as well as documents released and leaked from the White House, add some meat to the bone, and begin to tell us what an infrastructure plan might ultimately mean for rural America. Based on the outline, rural America should perk up.
During the SOTU the president acknowledged the poor state of infrastructure in the United States and promised to help advance a plan that would generate at least a $1.5 trillion investment to rebuild and repair basically all things that move America. The speech was limited in detail, it was the SOTU after all, but immediately following the speech the White House released a two-page press document that gave a few more details.
The release highlighted that one out of every five miles of U.S. highway pavement is in poor condition. And in rural America don’t we know it. According to the Department of Transportation’s latest Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges and Transit report, 74% of the nation’s bridges, 73% of the 4 million miles of public roads, and 33% of all vehicle miles traveled are in rural areas. When our roads and bridges are in disrepair, we feel it.
The latest figures floating put federal funds for infrastructure upgrades at $200 billion. While $200 billion is a lot of money, it doesn’t take a math whiz to realize that it’s a far cry from the $1.5 trillion investment mentioned during the SOTU. That means states will be incentivized to work with local and private investment partners for completion and operation of projects under this program. Many transportation experts have highlighted over the years that public-private partnerships are most attractive in large population centers with lots of vehicle miles. In other words, perhaps not a great fit, by and large, for addressing rural transportation issues.
However, the release also laid out the president’s plan to dedicate 25 percent of the federal funds for rural infrastructure needs, prioritized by state and local leaders. These funds will go toward rebuilding roads, providing clean water to rural families and businesses, expanding broadband access, and supplying affordable, reliable power. If we assume the federal funds available will indeed be $200 billion, rural America could see a $25 billion infrastructure injection.