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Joe Biden's infrastructure deja vu


The infrastructure plan Joe Biden released Thursday morning is heavy on high-speed rail, transit, biking and other items that Barack Obama championed during his presidency — along with a complete lack of specifics on how he plans to pay for it all. It also differs significantly from President Donald Trump's $1.5 trillion-plus vision for infrastructure, which relies heavily on private-sector investment and about $200 billion in direct federal funds that he proposes be offset by spending cuts in other areas.

Here's your cheat sheet to what's inside Biden's new infrastructure push:

Attention to biking, walking and transit
Like Obama, Biden promises to invest in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and build “complete streets“ that are safe for a variety of transportation modes. Biden also wants to spend $10 billion over 10 years on transit projects in high-poverty areas — an echo of the Obama DOT’s Ladders of Opportunity, a program devoted to using transportation as an engine of social equity.

High-speed rail
Biden is still a believer in a coast-to-coast, high-speed rail network, despite seeing Obama‘s ambitious “vision” for a nationwide, high-speed rail network sputter: Florida and Wisconsin rejected federal high-speed rail grants; and California’s high-speed rail program has become a political punching bag and a money pit. Biden’s plan aims to cut travel time between Washington, D.C., and New York City by half, rebuild the Hudson River Tunnel, expand the Northeast Corridor southward, keep plugging away in California and jump-start high-speed rail networks in the Midwest and West.

A soft spot for discretionary grants
Biden wants to double funding to $3.5 billion a year for two discretionary transportation grant programs created by the Obama administration, and he wouldn’t stop there. He also proposes a new $40 billion, 10-year “Transformational Projects Fund” for large and complex projects, grants for cities building electric vehicle charging infrastructure and planning for a future with driverless cars, grants for airport renovations and funding for neighborhoods where highways have cut people off from jobs and amenities.

Direct contact with cities
Transportation funding traditionally flows through state DOTs, but Biden’s plan is dotted with references about direct federal funding for cities — a subtle signal to urbanists and sustainability advocates that, like Obama’s DOT, Biden would bypass state highway middlemen to work on distinctly urban projects like light rail, bike lanes and walking routes to school.

No gas tax hike
Biden says “every cent” of his $1.3 trillion plan will be paid for with tax increases to the “super-wealthy and corporations,” undoing some of the 2017 GOP tax cuts, closing loopholes, ending fossil fuel subsidies and other changes. Such a change would be a break from the traditional model of users paying for infrastructure — a model that has eroded in recent years anyway, as the gas tax has failed to meet the need and the Highway Trust Fund has been shored up repeatedly with general fund transfers. Obama also supported corporate tax changes at the end of his administration, proposing to pay for transportation by taxing overseas corporate profits.


Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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