Trump Talks Up Infrastructure Plan In Cincinnati

Jun 8, 2017
Originally published on June 8, 2017 12:27 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Cincinnati yesterday, President Trump promoted the general idea of American infrastructure.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are a nation that created the Panama Canal, the Transcontinental Railroad and the inter - if you think about this, the great highway system - the interstate highway system. We don't do that anymore.

INSKEEP: So what's he want to do about it? NPR's David Schaper reports the president left open two big issues - what to build and how to pay for it.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The beautiful river city of Cincinnati, with its new downtown stadiums and redeveloped and revived riverfront, isn't nearly as pretty when seen from underneath some of its most vital transportation infrastructure.

TODD PORTUNE: We are standing underneath part of the support structure - substructure of a very important local bridge.

SCHAPER: This is Todd Portune, president of the Board of Hamilton County Commissioners. And we're actually standing near the juncture of three rusting, aging bridges spanning the Ohio River. One of them is the narrow, congested, I-75 Brent Spence Bridge.

PORTUNE: And it is very outdated. It is overburdened. It handles twice the amount of truck traffic it was ever designed to handle.

SCHAPER: That notorious bridge is rated as one of the worst in the country. It's so bottlenecked and accident-prone that many Cincinnati-area drivers go out of their way to avoid it. And don't even get Portune started on Cincinnati's other infrastructure needs, such as a $3.5 billion sewer system overhaul.

President Trump, speaking a few miles away, didn't disagree. In fact, he promised a new I-75 bridge when campaigning here. But Wednesday he chose a different backdrop, standing on the banks of the Ohio River with barges fully loaded with coal anchored behind him, to draw attention to another piece of the nation's aging infrastructure - inland waterways.

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TRUMP: These critical corridors of commerce depend on a dilapidated system of locks and dams that is more than half a century old. And their condition - as you know better than anybody - is in very, very bad shape. It continues to decay.

SCHAPER: The president broadly outlined his solution - spending a trillion dollars rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.

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TRUMP: At least $200 billion of the $1 trillion plan will come from direct federal investment. Working with states, local governments and private industry, we will ensure that these new federal funds are matched by significant additional dollars.

SCHAPER: It's not clear how cities, counties and states would come up with their share. And private investors would expect to be paid back with interest or profits from tolls or user fees. Tony Rosiello is a local township trustee who expected more.

TONY ROSIELLO: I think that the federal government - and even as a Republican saying this - they have an obligation when they built the expressway system back in the late '50s to keep things up - to keep things safe.

SCHAPER: Rosiello says he's willing to consider tolls or even the gas tax, though he knows many in his party won't, while Democrat Portune doesn't like much of Trump's plan at all.

PORTUNE: There's no specifics to this plan. Who knows how it's going to work - no details at all.

SCHAPER: Portune calls it just more of the same - big talk at the federal level followed by little funding, leaving local residents paying higher taxes, tolls or both. David Schaper, NPR News, Cincinnati. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.