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Rebuilding infrastructure Trump’s best bet for unity

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Following a year of deep political, racial and social divisions, President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday night called for a “new American moment” of unity.

But that’s easier said than done, considering Trump has on numerous occasions fanned the flames of discord in this country.

While the president in his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress offered a recitation of his accomplishments since taking office Jan. 20, 2017, the fact remains that bipartisanship has been a rarity.

The Republican president and the GOP-controlled House and Senate made little attempt to include Democrats in the development of significant legislation, such as the massive tax-cut and reform package.

Trump and his allies in Congress tried to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act but fell short. Likewise, they set their sights on far-reaching immigration reform, but it remains a work in progress.

Democrats on Capitol Hill were largely ignored, thus making the president’s appeal for bipartisanship suspect.

“I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens, of every background, color and creed,” Trump said Tuesday night.

But the reality of this year’s midterm election will make it almost impossible for the president to bridge the political divide he helped widen over the past year.

Thus the question: Is there an issue that is tailor-made for the kind of unified action the president talked about in his State of the Union address?

Yes, there is – just as there has been for many years: rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump pledged to launch a huge infrastructure rebuilding and upgrading program. Last year, in his first speech to Congress, he called for a $1 trillion investment in America’s physical attributes.

Private sector partnership

Tuesday night, the president urged Congress to allocate $1.5 trillion for new infrastructure investment. He said that every federal dollar should be leveraged with state and local participation, and where appropriate, the federal government should seek partnerships with the private sector.

The president also called for streamlining the process by which projects are approved and construction permits granted. He said the permitting and approval period should not take more than two years and preferably should occur within a year.

“America is a nation of builders,” Trump said, noting that the Empire State Building was constructed in a year, but an infrastructure project takes a decade to complete.

He called on both parties to come together to give the nation a modern, safe, reliable infrastructure system.

In 2013, then President Barack Obama, a Democrat, also urged Congress to launch a massive infrastructure improvement program, but Republicans on Capitol Hill ignored his call.

Now, a Republican president is asking a Republican-controlled Congress to join him in such an endeavor. It remains to be seen if Trump has the political will to persuade them to act.

Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued its quadrennial report on the state of the nation’s roads, bridges, water systems and energy networks, and it showed that not much had changed since the last evaluation in 2013.

The overall D+ grade should have been a call to action, but as in the past it wasn’t.

There is also this reality confronting the Trump administration: The $1.5 trillion is a pittance of what is needed to fix the nation’s dams, airports, roads, bridges and water and electrical systems.

According to the 28 civil engineers who participated in the analysis last year, it will take $4.6 trillion to address all the needs. The engineers looked at 16 infrastructure categories and considered capacity, condition, funding, future need, maintenance, public safety and innovation.

The rebuilding and upgrading of America’s infrastructure is a nonpartisan issue that should be easy to undertake if President Trump demonstrates the leadership necessary to bring everyone to the table.