State transportation secretary calls Trump infrastructure plan ‘bold’

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A different approach is what West Virginia Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said President Donald Trump appears to be trying with his infrastructure proposal, one that’s generally designed to utilize federal dollars to leverage much larger investments.

“It’s trying to use federal resources to spur $1.5 trillion worth of additional infrastructure work all over the country and so that’s really, really good news,” said Smith, who described the proposal as “a bold plan.”

Secretary Tom Smith

Initially, the proposal comes with a $200 billion total investment over ten years, or $20 billion annually, from the federal government.

Of that, Smith said states would be able to compete for $100 billion in incentivized funding, with another $50 billion designated specifically for direct allocations to rural states like West Virginia.

In general, the proposal seeks to turn $1 of federal money into $6 in potential additional investments via states and local governments, many of which are struggling financially, or private investors — turning the federal government into a minority stakeholder.

It’s a reversal from the past when, for example, Smith said every $9 in federal money for highways was matched with $1 from states.

“The President has worked hard trying to find ways to set the context in place where people will want to invest in infrastructure more than in the past,” Smith said.

With this proposal, what’s considered infrastructure goes beyond highways, waterways, airports and railroads to also include water, sewer, waterway and broadband projects in certain instances.

Critics have characterized the infrastructure plan as a “modest proposal” funded with cuts to other federal transportation spending that overinflates the likely willingness of outside parties to invest in such projects.

West Virginia has already taken multiple steps to fund a $2.8 million roads program, including passage of the Road Bond Amendment.

That puts the Mountain State in a good position, Smith argued.

“We think that whatever share of $1.5 trillion that comes to West Virginia, we can say, ‘Hey, folks stepped up here,'” Smith said. “We think we’ll be able to stir the highway portion of that into the mix that we already have and make our pot even bigger.”

Smith was named secretary of the Department of Transportation and commissioner of the Division of Highways in Jan. 2017.

Prior to that, he’d served as senior transportation advisor for the Appalachian Regional Commission in Washington, D.C. after more than 37 years with the Federal Highway Administration.

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