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9 Months Into Presidency, Trump Still Hasn't Offered Infrastructure Plan


As both candidate and president, Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to fix the nation's crumbling infrastructure.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, railways, waterways, tunnels and highways.

SIEGEL: But the Trump administration still hasn't put forward an infrastructure plan. And even though there's bipartisan support for infrastructure spending, there are questions about where that money would come from. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: I'm standing alongside some railroad tracks on Chicago's South Side that are part of what's known as the 75th Street Corridor. It's where six different railroads all converge. Four of them are freight railroads with some 90 freight trains a day. The other two are passenger rail. And at this particular spot called the Belt Junction, five sets of tracks merge down to just two. And because some cross over one another, usually only one train - like this long, slow freight train - can get through at a time. The others just have to wait.

RANDY BLANKENHORN: The 75th Street Corridor is really the linchpin of the bottleneck that is Chicago in rail congestion.

SCHAPER: Randy Blankenhorn is the transportation secretary of Illinois.

BLANKENHORN: We have 30 commuter trains running through this pinch point. We've got seven Amtrak trains running through this pinch point. We got delays between passenger and freight rail. And then we have freight trains sitting.

SCHAPER: Though sitting freight trains delay shipments of everything from North Dakota crude oil and corn from Iowa to car parts heading to Detroit and toys heading to store shelves all across the country, as more than 25 percent of the nation's freight that is shipped by rail goes through Chicago.

BLANKENHORN: If we relieve this choke point, goods coming from everywhere across this country will move more efficiently because Chicago is where everything comes.

SCHAPER: Blankenhorn says getting federal funding to untangle this rail congestion is Illinois' top infrastructure priority. The city, the state and the railroads have already agreed to pay two-thirds of the $480 million cost. They just need $160 million from Congress and the White House to close the gap. The prospects for this and for other vital infrastructure projects across the country would get a huge boost if President Trump would propose the long-awaited trillion-dollar infrastructure spending plan that he's promised. But there's still no plan.

BLANKENHORN: I must say, I'm disappointed.

SCHAPER: Delaware Senator Tom Carper is the senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

TOM CARPER: This is probably the most ripe subject for us to engage on and do so in a constructive way, in a bipartisan way. And why we're this far into the administration and we have yet to see - actually to see their plan is at best disappointing.

SCHAPER: Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee say the president told them in a recent meeting that he would no longer rely on a funding scheme that leverages private financing to build infrastructure because he said such deals just don't work. Robert Puentes is with the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington, D.C.,-based think tank.

ROBERT PUENTES: Backing away from public-private partnerships and not offering another way to pay for infrastructure has certainly made things more complicated from the White House.

SCHAPER: Puentes says there's widespread bipartisan agreement on the need to spend for infrastructure, but...

PUENTES: There's definitely more uncertainty now about where the money could come from. We're running out of ideas, and I think Washington has run out of options.

SCHAPER: Some Republicans say the White House will outline a new set of principles on funding infrastructure soon, but it is still expected to be just an outline, not a concrete plan. That means hopes for everything from high-speed rail in California and rural broadband in Minnesota to rebuilding bridges and highways all across the country will remain on hold. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. 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.