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Infrastructure Experts Wondering Where Funding Would Come From For Trump's Plan


President Trump says now is the time to fix the nation's crumbling roads and bridges. Here's part of what he said last night in his State of the Union address.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Tonight, I'm calling on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs.

KELLY: The president did not offer details on where that money would come from, and that is concerning to many transportation planners and infrastructure experts. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Bud Wright of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says he's pleased the president is highlighting the need to invest in infrastructure.

BUD WRIGHT: This president clearly does see infrastructure as a priority.

SCHAPER: But he's a bit concerned about what President Trump didn't say about his infrastructure plan last night. White House officials say of that $1.5 trillion the president wants to spend, only $200 billion would come from the federal government, spread out over 10 years. Local governments would have to come up with much of the rest. And Wright says cities and states already shoulder a significant share of the transportation funding burden.

WRIGHT: About 80 percent of the investment that's being made on highways today comes from state and local governments. And the number is somewhere around 75 percent for public transportation.

SCHAPER: Wright says more than 30 states have raised gasoline or other taxes in recent years to make up for a lack of federal funding. So few may be able to stomach raising taxes even more to come up with what the president's plan would require them to put up. Another concern is how the money would be distributed.

MARYSUE BARRETT: It's twisted, and it's potentially dangerous.

SCHAPER: That's MarySue Barrett, president of Chicago's Metropolitan Planning Council, a regional planning nonprofit. She says the administration wants to give greater preference to those projects that have more state and local funds at the ready. But Barrett says transportation projects should be awarded funding based more on what the projects can achieve than what they can pay.

BARRETT: We have to decide about the economic value. We have to decide about the equity impacts, who's being left behind in our changing economy and making sure that we don't invest just in the places that are already successful.

SCHAPER: President Trump is also calling for greater private sector investments in infrastructure. Sarah Badawi of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee calls that a scam.

SARAH BADAWI: And the result - families will pay tolls to Wall Street just to drive home from work.

SCHAPER: But the fact that cities and states may have to rely more heavily on tolls to pay for infrastructure is not necessarily a bad thing, says Pat Jones of the International Bridge Turnpike and Toll Association.

PAT JONES: Tolling is a very visible and transparent way to fund infrastructure. It's easy to see what the toll is, and it's easy to see where the money goes.

SCHAPER: Jones says tolling may not work everywhere, but it can provide a quick, reliable funding stream to build new highways and bridges or repair and replace crumbling ones. The question is whether Congress will want to rely on increased tolling as one of the ways to raise the money that President Trump wants to spend to fix up the nation's infrastructure. David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.