Last week, Politico obtained a six-page white paper circulating on Capitol Hill that purported to be a draft of the White House’s long-awaited infrastructure plan. The White House hasn’t confirmed the draft’s accuracyand it’s not clear that, even if it’s legit, it’s the most current version.
Regardless, it was enough to set off a wave of speculation and anxiety. The white paper proposes $200 billion in federal funding for infrastructure projects, a relative pittance the Trump administration hopes to leverage into $1.8 trillion in infrastructure spending when combined with state and local funding and public-private partnerships. As part of that shift from federal- to local-government spending, the proposal would lower the federal match on capital improvement projects from 50 percent to 20 percent.
The potential problem: the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project relies on that 50 percent match for its $2.5 billion (not including interest) rail line. That cut would cost GoTriangle $700 million. Is that something the local transit agency’s worried about?
“What it would mean for the program, we just don’t know,” says general manager Jeff Mann.
There are many blanks to be filled in. But a key question is whether this funding change would only apply to future projects or also to projects, like the DOLRT, that are already already in-progress.
Probably the former, says a Democratic congressional staffer who works on infrastructure legislation. The Federal Transit Administration has already given the DOLRT a thumbs-up to proceed to the next phase of the project.
In fact, the new program’s funding could be the bigger threat, the staffer says. If the White House gets its way, the $200 billion won’t come from new revenue but instead from cuts to current spending. And the Trump administration’s first budget zero-funded the grant program for which GoTriangle is applying. So it’s possible the White House will try to redirect those funds.