Uncertainty surrounds Trump’s infrastructure plan

By |  April 5, 2018

President Trump’s proposed $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan includes $200 billion of federal funding. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Foter.com

Top White House infrastructure advisor DJ Gribbin is leaving the Trump administration, creating more uncertainty around the president’s infrastructure plan and whether a bill will be passed this year.

Gribbin, who developed President Trump’s infrastructure plan released in February, is “moving on to new opportunities,” according to a White House official.

Trump’s proposal, as formulated by Gribbin, called for $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next decade. Of that $1.5 trillion, $200 billion would be allocated from federal funding, leaving the remaining $1.3 trillion to be generated from state and local governments, as well as the private sector.

Earlier in the year, there was optimism within the aggregate industry that Congress would pass an infrastructure bill in 2018. However, based on President Trump’s remarks at a speech in Richfield, Ohio, it’s likely that optimism has dwindled.

“I’ve asked Republicans and Democrats in Congress to come together and deliver the biggest and boldest infrastructure plan in the last half-century,” says Trump, speaking to an Ohio chapter of the International Union of Operating Engineers. “I don’t think you’re going to get Democrats’ support very much, and you’ll probably have to wait until after the [midterm] election[s], which isn’t so far down the road.”

A stall in the infrastructure bill isn’t necessarily welcomed news for aggregate producers. For an industry that has steadily regained momentum in recent years, the idea of possibly waiting until 2019 for finality on an infrastructure bill is somewhat unsettling.

Other takeaways

On the positive side, Trump, in his same speech, addressed the need to overhaul the permitting process.

“We will completely transform the horrible and costly and broken permitting process,” Trump says. “The current permitting system is a disaster – it takes forever. It adds tremendous cost and years and years of endless delay to infrastructure projects all across the country.

“We’re going to protect the environment and cut the permit approval time, and we’re going to get things done. We’re going to get them built. Or, we’re going to tell you, ‘no good for the environment, sorry, don’t bother.’ But for the most part, it’s going to happen,” Trump adds.

A simplified permitting process, while still in the works, is a change many aggregate industry leaders welcome.

“[Permitting] can take decades,” says Jim Cox, aggregate division technical services director at Cemex. “We’ve got an operation we’ve been working on eight years, and it will probably be two [more] years before we can open the gates. I believe we’ll have about $15 million tied up before we produce the first ton, so it’s very expensive.”

Workforce labor, in addition to permitting, is another problem that has plagued the aggregate industry in recent years.

“Labor is still a huge problem in our industry,” says Hal Williford, president and CEO of Memphis Stone & Gravel. “We’re still having trouble on entry-level positions, keeping people that want to work in this industry.”

Aggregate employers, including Memphis Stone & Gravel, are trying to be more creative and efficient when it comes to employee training.

“We are just starting to put together some formal training to try to train people in different jobs and give them different opportunities,” Williford adds.

President Trump, in his Ohio speech, also addressed the issue of labor in the aggregate and construction industries.

“First, we’ll invest in the American worker,” Trump says. “My counsel of economic advisers estimates that our plan will create up to 400,000 new infrastructure jobs almost immediately.

“For workers without a college degree, these job[s] offer wages that are 32 percent higher than other occupations. These are great people, great workers and they’re great-paying jobs. That’s why I’m asking Congress to improve federal student aid to include high-quality, short-term training programs that equip Americans to succeed in construction and the skilled trades,” Trump adds.

On the surface, the details of Trump’s proposed infrastructure bill would likely benefit the aggregate industry. However, one problem remains: Trump’s infrastructure proposal remains just that, a proposal.

With the departure of Gribbin, there seems to be no set timetable on when, and if, a new infrastructure bill will be passed.

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