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Trump’s trillion dollar infrastructure plan isn’t automatically a good idea

Look past the price tag, outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says on Recode Decode.

Transportation Secretary Foxx Testifies To Senate Committee On The Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act Mark Wilson / Getty Images

The challenges facing the next Secretary of Transportation are numerous, ranging from self-driving vehicles to drones to high-speed rail. But also heading for the desk of Donald Trump’s nominee Elaine Chao is a proposed $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending.

On the latest episode of Recode Decode, outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he’s not worried about Chao’s ability to take on these tasks. But he is concerned that Congress won’t be able to look past the sticker price.

“It’s a funny thing, having the battle scars of the FAST Act on my back, a lot of the conversation — about 95 percent of it, if history’s any indication — is going to be about how big it is and how it gets paid for,” Foxx said. “And those decisions are actually made by committees that aren’t on the side of deciding how the money gets spent.”

“The problem is, you could put $5 trillion into our infrastructure system, but if we’re not paying for the right things, we’re going to be challenged,” he added.

Foxx, who was appointed to lead the DoT by President Obama in 2013, said he sees transportation policy as a sort of community-building exercise. The issue is that, unlike countries with a federated system such as France, America depends on state and local governments, which want different things.

“For every dollar in the highway trust system, 80 cents is going to roads and 20 cents is going to transit,” he said. “Well, there’s some areas of the country that really want to flip that. And there’s other areas that say, we’d rather just have 100 percent roads, and they’d be right.”

“What I’ve been trying to urge is for the transportation committee to pay as much attention to the policy as to the funding,” Foxx added. “If we don’t get this right, we’re going to have a lot of infrastructure, but it may not be the infrastructure that’s going to help us move forward.”

Foxx said he doesn’t expect the big infrastructure bill will distract from the DoT’s plan to provide annually updated guidelines for self-driving cars.

“In theory, we can chew gum and walk straight at the same time,” he said. “I’m hopeful. That’s the word of the day, I have a lot of hope.”

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