June ended with the country’s top transportation officer emphasizing that a multiyear highway policy directive from Washington is more beneficial to state agencies than a series of short-term extensions of federal guidelines.
Secretary Elaine Chao drilled down on this point, admittedly obvious to stakeholders, during an in-depth conversation with Hugo Gurdon, editor of The Washington Examiner, on June 26.
“The general pattern is in fact to just have extensions, not full reauthorization. But clearly, the certainty of having a longer time frame is very important to those who are involved in infrastructure,” said the secretary, sitting across from the journalist on stage at the Heritage Foundation. “State and local governments, you know, if they know they’re going to have this money for five years rather than six months, they can actually plan for the future. So a longer-term horizon is better.”
The conservative think tank is a few blocks from the Senate side of the Capitol, where the surface transportation panel on July 10 ideally will kick off the obvious task of determining a strategy for reauthorizing surface transportation policy. The current highway law expires in less than 15 months.
By now, a consensus has been established inside the Beltway that advancing comprehensive infrastructure policy is unlikely this year. Separate press conferences in May from President Donald Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing their failed negotiations on a $2 trillion infrastructure measure cemented the notion that top-level infrastructure talks had collapsed.
Since then, Trump has focused on immigration policy. Pelosi has pressed forward with investigations into Trump’s political and business worlds. The Republican leadership in the Senate has not proposed an infrastructure measure during Trump’s tenure.
Reacting to Gurdon’s suggestion that comprehensive infrastructure policy would not advance in the foreseeable future, Chao exclaimed, “I haven’t given up hope yet.”
She added, “The president is optimistic, and the White House, they’re talking to Congress about this.”