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Ag groups urge Trump to follow through on infrastructure plans

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump renewed his pledge to rebuild America’s crumbling transportation infrastructure system during his first State of the Union (SOTU) address last month.

Agriculture groups, which have promoted federal investment to modernize the transportation system for years, responded mostly with praise for his call for at least $1.5 trillion in public-private funding “for the new infrastructure investment we need.

“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways across our land,” Trump said of his renewal proposal, which would be “leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into public sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.”

The promise to facilitate and prioritize a U.S. infrastructure rebuild in Congress, first made on the campaign trail by then-candidate Trump, was a key factor – along with deregulation and tax code overhaul – in swinging the farm vote in his favor during the 2016 presidential election. Following his SOTU address, ag leaders immediately began calling on Trump to follow through on his promise.

“Family farmers and rural residents are looking to President Trump to deliver on his promises to fix the nation’s failed free trade agreement framework and crumbling rural infrastructure,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. “We appreciate the President’s attention to current infrastructure woes.

“There is clearly a growing need for significant federal investment in our nation’s roads, rails, broadband, locks and dams. We urge the administration and Congress to move swiftly in developing the promised comprehensive infrastructure package.”

American Soybean Assoc. President John Heisdorffer said the SOTU pledge to work with Congress to develop the $1.5 trillion infrastructure initiative addresses a priority that is long overdue.

“America’s transportation network is U.S. agriculture’s competitive advantage for reaching world markets at less cost than other exporting countries. Brazil and other soybean exporters have been making significant investments in bolstering their railroads and river systems in recent years, while our aging infrastructure continues to deteriorate, causing delays and higher freight costs,” said Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer.

Trump’s infrastructure proposal is part of what he touted as the “new American moment” for economic renewal during his speech. American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall agreed a Congressionally approved infrastructure development plan could play a major role in sparking the economic renewal envisioned by the Trump administration.

“With the more than $1 trillion infrastructure development package (Trump) announced tonight, it is our expectation that rural communities will be partners in what he described as a New American Moment. Infrastructure upgrades tied to our rural communities will help pave the way for economic renewal that is so badly needed,” he said.

Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) Executive Director Mike Steenhoek called on the White House and Congress to provide greater specificity on their infrastructure strategy, particularly regarding funding.

“Funding remains the main obstacle to seeing an infrastructure package transition from an intention to an outcome. As the weeks progress, we anticipate a more specific set of recommendations from the White House and Congress,” he said. “We look forward to being engaged in this process.”

Trump said any infrastructure bill he would approve must streamline the permitting and approval process for projects to no more than two years. Steenhoek agreed that more efficient processes for funding and delivering transportation projects must be adopted.

“While we clearly would like more funding on the revenue side of the equation, there clearly are opportunities for improvement on the cost side of the equation. President Trump’s emphasis on streamlining and making the process less bureaucratic reveals he understands this,” he said.

The STC timed the Jan. 19 issuance of its “Top Ten Most Wanted List” of infrastructure priorities with Trump’s impending address. In the document, the STC called for maintenance and rehabilitation of locks and dams; more focus on dredging projects on the lower Mississippi River and depth maintenance measures on the Columbia River; permitting six-axle, 91,000-pound semi trucks on the interstate highway system; increasing the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel; providing greater funding reliability for lock and dam projects; providing block grants to states to replace rural bridges and state grants for rural bridge inspections; ensuring full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for port improvements; and a permanent or multiyear extension of the shortline railroad tax credit.

Trump’s infrastructure proposal has the makings of a measure that could gain support from both sides of the political aisle, said a top Democrat lawmaker who met with administration officials and a bipartisan group of senators in advance of the SOTU.

“While there is no shortage of issues on which the President and I disagree, the kind of large trillion-dollar infrastructure investment that then-candidate Trump talked about is something that has the potential to elicit bipartisan support here in Congress,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Farmers can have a voice in shaping Trump’s infrastructure proposal by developing a dialogue with their legislators, according to Gerry Hayden, a Kentucky soybean farmer who serves as chair of the STC.

“Farmers should realize that if we are unwilling to promote the transportation solutions that would benefit our industry, we should not expect others to do so,” he said. “It is critical the farmer perspective has a seat at the table.”

The administration could release a more detailed infrastructure proposal following Trump’s SOTU address, a Democratic aide told The Hill after the pre-SOTU bipartisan meeting.