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Trump infrastructure budget is too small to rebuild America

President Donald Trump speaks during an infrastructure meeting

President Donald Trump speaks during an infrastructure meeting at the White House on Feb. 12, 2018. Credit: Bloomberg / T.J. Kirkpatrick

The infrastructure plan President Donald Trump unveiled Monday doesn’t lay a strong enough foundation to build upon.

If Trump’s goal were to repair and upgrade roads, bridges, rails, sewers and airports, he would come up with a plan with real money to meet real needs, and a pathway to get projects done. Instead, on Monday he provided a fraction of what’s required, and no detailed roadmap.

Trump’s proposal includes $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years, a small portion of the $1 trillion he promised, and relies heavily on private money and state and local funds from tolls, fees and taxes. Forcing states and localities to increase tolls to pay for infrastructure is not a boost from the federal government — it’s simply a way to shift the responsibility.

Trump chose to ignore the Gateway program, a $30 billion effort to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and rebuild other infrastructure. According to an agreement with the Obama administration, the project’s funding was to be split, with half being paid by New York and New Jersey, and half paid by the federal government.

Trump’s decision not to commit to Gateway is troubling. Trump knows Gateway is important. He knows it leads to Penn Station, the nation’s busiest railroad terminal. He knows the nation cannot afford the broad economic paralysis that would come if one of the current tunnel’s two train tubes fails. And federal officials know it’s just a matter of time before one of the old, damaged tubes suffers from power loss, broken signals or fallen debris that renders it unusable.

The project is critical not only to New York and New Jersey, but also to the region. The current Hudson tunnel plays host to 450 trains, and nearly 300,000 Amtrak and NJ Transit passenger trips, each day.

Yet, the White House took a narrow view Monday. An official noted that “90 percent of the benefits” of Gateway would go to “local transit riders.” It’s as if the economists in the White House never studied economic domino effects and have no understanding of the import of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the country’s busiest railroad line.

And it’s not just Gateway. Trump’s plan contains no commitment to rail safety technology for commuter, freight and federally funded trains and tracks, sewer upgrades that would help economic development, road and bridge repairs, or other needed projects, especially those that might not be as quick to generate revenue of their own.

There’s hope this is the first move in a long negotiation. If that’s the case, Sen. Chuck Schumer will have to leverage support for key Trump initiatives to get Gateway funding and a better infrastructure package.

Trump’s efforts to reduce the time it takes to review projects, to focus on public-private partnerships, and to bring attention to using increases in property owners’ tax dollars to help fund nearby public infrastructure are promising. But none of that will do much good without significantly more federal dollars, attention to both the nation’s most important projects and those necessary to help specific communities thrive, and assurances that the plan won’t result in the further undoing of environmental and safety regulations.

Trump has claimed to be the “builder president.” But this plan isn’t the right blueprint.