Mich. could benefit in Trump infrastructure order

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order to streamline the environmental review process for “high-priority” infrastructure projects, the first step in a larger push to spur nationwide infrastructure upgrade.

The order seeks allow state governors or department heads to request high-priority status for any infrastructure project, directing federal officials to then expedite environmental reviews for those projects.

The order also includes non-binding language reinforcing Trump’s campaign pledge to boost infrastructure spending but suggests that potential projects have been “routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures.”

As a candidate, Trump proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure investment over 10 years, promising to rebuild the country’s roads, bridges, tunnels and airports with a combination of federal and private dollars.

But it’s not clear how much of the tab would come from private sources, or whether he will be able to get such an ambitious plan through the Republican-led Congress, which resisted large spending plans proposed by the Obama administration.

It’s also not immediately clear if Michigan will pursue expedited environmental reviews for any infrastructure projects, as allowed under the new executive order.

Gov. Rick Snyder and the state Department of Transportation “have had some productive conversations with senior officials in the new administration to identify infrastructure projects that are of major importance in Michigan,” spokeswoman Anna Heaton said Tuesday.

The executive order was signed the same day that McClatchy News published what it called a “priority list” of potential targets for federal infrastructure spending under the Trump administration.

However, Politico reported later Tuesday that the list circulating in Washington, D.C., did not come from the Trump transition team, citing Brigham McCown, chairman of the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure.

The priority list from McClatchy referenced “President-elect Trump” on the title page and listed 50 “emergency and national security projects,” including the QLine, formerly the M-1 Rail, in Detroit, the Gordie Howe International Bridge and the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie.

Snyder has supported all three projects. He told The Detroit News in December a new shipping channel at the Soo Locks and a customs plaza for a new Detroit River bridge to Canada are two projects for which he is seeking funding after striking out with the Obama administration.

The Soo Locks are on the St. Mary’s River between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the province of Ontario. They create a key corridor for ships from Lake Superior to the St. Lawrence Seaway and lower Great Lakes.

Michigan’s congressional delegation has spent several years seeking federal funding to build a new, 1,200-foot-long lock to mirror the 48-year-old Poe Lock, which handles large freighters carrying iron ore, coal and other materials.

“Our entire economy in this country is at risk with having only one lock,” Snyder told legislators and the public in his Jan. 17 State of the State address, suggesting that pursuing federal funding for the project should be a top Michigan priority.

Snyder also has been seeking federal funding for a U.S. customs plaza on the Detroit side of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which would connect the city’s Delray neighborhood to Windsor.

Canada has committed to paying for construction of the bridge, which was last estimated to cost $2.1 billion.

The M-1 Rail QLine street car system is set to begin operation this spring along Woodward in Detroit. The project was led and funded by private businesses and philanthropic organizations, in partnership with local, state and the federal government.

There have been questions about how much federal aid Snyder could get from Trump since he didn’t endorse the New York businessman for president during the Republicans primaries or the general election.

“It would have been nice if I had a little help from your governor,” Trump said during his Dec. 9 “thank you” tour rally in Grand Rapids.

But Snyder has a solid relationship with Vice President Mike Pence, the former Indiana governor with whom Michigan’s governor has kept in “regular contact,” according to Snyder’s office.