One expert on America’s infrastructure contends that if President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of transportation is confirmed, she will have her hands full from day one.
Trump tapped Elaine Chao to oversee transportation policy – a pick who has served as labor secretary under former President George W. Bush. She also worked for the Department of Transportation under former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
It is argued that Chao may need her past experience to get things done under the Trump administration because even though America has an interstate highway system that is basically compete, much of the system is now nearing the end of its service life and will need to be completely reconstructed over the next two decades. The estimated price tag on its renovation and modernization is somewhere close to $1 trillion.
"No one really knows where that money is going to come from," contends Marc Scribner – a research fellow focusing on transportation policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Scribner believes that a big priority for the Department of Transportation will involve figuring out what the federal role is – along with what kind of tools federal and state governments will have … namely by way of financing, rather than funding.
"So, debt financing and allowing some of these projects to be taken on by the private sector – say a privately constructed and managed toll road – [should be taken into consideration]," he explained. "Those sorts of tools are things that the Department of Transportation can play an active role in – and encouraging states to experiment with some of these innovative financing mechanisms."
And while many Americans are focused on national security and or foreign policy, Scribner argues that infrastructure requires a great deal of attention, as well.
"That's why someone like Ms. Chao, she may be more open to some of these innovative financing tools than previous administrations, although I will say that the Obama administration and the George W. Bush administration were quite open to a number of these tools," Scribner maintained. "It was really Congress though that restrained the department in really experimenting."
One interesting note is that Elaine Chao's husband – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – has stated that he will not allow anything resembling a stimulus 2.0.