Trump’s Infrastructure Plans: What Can Be Learned from Global Examples?

Trump’s Infrastructure Plans: What Can Be Learned from Global Examples?

By Paula Hock

This week, President Trump began to announce his vision for the future of U.S. infrastructure. It includes using a combination of public and private funding sources to modernize American highways, waterways, electrical systems, and airway systems.

The plans form a sparsely-detailed proposal for a country’s aging infrastructure but the question becomes: is it enough? Will this broad-strokes approach gain the traction it needs? How do countries around the world handle planning and what can be learned from their examples?

High-Level Infrastructure Plans

During this “infrastructure week” from June 5th to 9th, President Trump and his administrative officials have been involved in rounds of meetings, signing ceremonies for statements, and public relations opportunities to push for substantial investments in a wide variety of the country’s transportation infrastructure.

The signing ceremony on Monday announced a set of principles encouraging Congress to look into privatizing air traffic control systems. Wednesday’s discussion in Ohio covered improvements to levees, dams, and locks along inland waterways, particularly for some of the most heavily trafficked waterways and bridges for cargo in the country.

Sparse Details

A significant drawback of the recently-released plans relates to the specifics (or lack thereof): what exactly is being proposed and how will it come to fruition? Why has there been no proposed legislation? Where do we go from here?

In light of generalities, critics have already raised concern over this lack of details, like where federal money would be applied, who would oversee projects, what regulations and rules would be cut, etc. In fact, speculation is already underway as to the extent of privatization necessary for the increases in spending amidst federal budget and tax cuts.

Global Examples

Not surprisingly, transportation infrastructure affects a wide range of industries in most countries around the world and is influenced by a variety of factors including population growth, economic trends, trade agreements, and more. As such, many countries around the world provide interesting examples for taking on the challenge of updating infrastructure.

Starting the Conversation

Zambia’s Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Development, Ronald Chitotela, maintains that there is a need for reliable transport infrastructure to attain trade competitiveness both in Africa and globally. As such, Zambia hosted the 8th Africa Transportation Transfer conference last month, for the first time. Chitotela commented at this meeting that the government should seek advice from transportation stakeholders to develop effective integrated transportation systems. This is the first step in a long road ahead for the continued development of the Southern Province’s infrastructure to benefit economy and trade.

Privatization and PPPs

Other countries are seeking and continuing to receive a variety of private investments and public-private partnerships (PPPs), which are expected to be a cornerstone of Trump’s infrastructure plan overall. Iran saw an increase in private investment of $1.9 billion (70%) from the 2015-2016 year to now. This is credited to increases in economic stability since a landmark deal signed in 2015 by President Hassan Rouhani. Myanmar is seeking new PPPs for infrastructure projects in order to speed up progress of sector reforms. Both developments of infrastructure and reform implementation will be instituted to accomplish their goals.

As noted here, some extent of privatization and PPPs have been beneficial and have worked in these examples. This provides proof of concept for at least a portion of the proposed changes by the current US administration.

Government-Led Development

Conversely to privatization, some countries maintain their infrastructure via governmental mandate and support alone. Israel, for example, has seen rapid population growth over the last several years, approximately 2.25% since 1990. As such, the Ministry of Transportation works not only to update their infrastructure, but also to predict what the transportation needs will be over the next several decades. This includes inter-city train lines, expansion of airports, and maritime improvements.

Interestingly,  an example of countries learning from the experiences of one another is already evident: India’s Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is collaborating with Transport for London (TfL) to include an exchange of information and experience from both parties. India contributes expertise on mobility and efficiency, planning, and delivery. Whereas, TfL provides experience in ticketing, information dissemination, financing, and infrastructure maintenance.

A Chance for Success

Moving forward, we will continue to see the globalization of transportation infrastructure experience, as great advantages are gained when we learn from previous mistakes. If the U.S. and other countries alike want to find answers on infrastructure logistics or planning, they’ve only to look beyond their borders.

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