President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have come and gone, and we are no closer to an infrastructure package than we were when the president promised during his campaign to “build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, sea ports and airports that our country deserves.”
The dire infrastructure needs of our country, particularly in the Northeast, are glaring, and unless the president gets serious about the problem, things will only get worse.
Late last month, Amtrak announced significant track closures at New York Penn Station, the busiest railroad station in North America. Every day, 1,300 trains carry over 600,000 passengers to and from the station, mostly commuters from New Jersey and Long Island. These closures are unfortunate but necessary to bring the station’s tracks into a state of good repair. The repairs are necessary to keep travelers safe.
On the same day, thousands of commuters in the nation’s capital were forced to deal with delays related to a fire on the tracks at a major station in the heart of downtown Washington. This comes as the system’s operator, WMATA, nears completion of their year-long “SafeTrack” program to avoid incidents just like this one. The timing of the issues in New York and Washington is not mere coincidence.
For too long, the federal government has been unwilling to put up the funds needed to modernize our infrastructure. The nation’s intercity passenger railroad operator, Amtrak, was founded by Congress in the wake of the collapse of the passenger railroad industry to serve the needs of Americans traveling by rail. For its almost half-century existence, Amtrak has perennially struggled to get the funds needed from Congress to modernize its properties.
For those in the Northeast, this lack of funding has been particularly keen, as Northeast riders represent one-third of all Amtrak riders. The track issues at Penn Station are a canary in the coal mine for the aging railroad. The oldest Penn Station tracks are decades old; however, the tunnels leading to the station under the Hudson are over a century old and in desperate need of repair.
The problems plaguing the D.C. Metro are also well known. Several fatalities over the last decade and a deterioration of service have pushed our capital’s rapid transit system to the brink. The federal workforce relies on this system, which was once the envy of the nation. Now, despite local officials pleading with Congress for assistance, the Metro is in decline.
Due in part to funding issues, the Metro is dealt nearly weekly setbacks in their efforts to bring the system “back to good.” Reports of delays and safety defects continue to abound.
President Trump’s recently released tax plan shows little nuance and makes no effort to pay for the massive cuts it gives to corporations and the wealthy.
By some early estimates the plan will increase the deficit by $3 trillion to $7 trillion over the next decade.
Throughout the Obama administration, Republicans were unified in their opposition to any infrastructure spending that would add to the deficit. Yet, when it comes to cutting taxes, concerns about the deficit are not an issue.
In one of his last acts in office, former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced his department’s report on the status of America’s infrastructure. DOT found that our nation needs $926 billion of infrastructure investment to deal with the backlog of unmet capital investment needs and to prepare our roads, bridges, and transit systems for increased usage in the decades ahead.
But every dollar of infrastructure investment means another three dollars of economic growth. In short, America’s infrastructure needs could be met, and then some, for a fraction of the cost of the President’s tax plan while contributing immensely to economic growth.
In the President’s “Contract with the American Voter,” he promised to address infrastructure in his 100-day action plan. That promise was not kept.
I hope that the President sees the breakdown of the aging railroad in New York, the city where he made his fortune, and the breakdown of the transit system of the city he now calls home as signs that the federal government can no longer delay investing in infrastructure. The states and the people are asking for help from Washington. If the President is serious about growing the economy and putting people back to work, he will heed their calls.
Donald M. Payne, Jr. is a Democratic congressman representing New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District. He sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.