Trump Budget Proposal: What it Means for Development Projects in 2017
Many millennials and other young people walking through Somerville’s vibrant squares and neighborhoods would be surprised to know what it was like in the 1960’s and 70’s. Boarded up store windows. Dangerous crime levels. Houses in decay. Middle class flight to the suburbs. A city on a downward spiral.
Today, Somerville is one of the hottest restaurant, nightlife and real estate markets in the state – the envy of many cities around the state.
What happened? While many factors came into play (Cambridge residents getting priced out of the market; an overall shift to urban centers; improved city government and services), nearly everyone acknowledges the key: the arrival of the Red Line in Davis Square.
When Somerville was added to the region’s mass transit system, making downtown Boston a short 15 minute subway ride away, the city began to bloom. And today, the Davis Square area is in full flower.
Infrastructure spending is the key to economic development here and across the country. When we invest in our roads and bridges, our trains and subways, we see development money unleashed, which in turn leads to growth in jobs, housing and population. And the need for improvement in our country’s infrastructure is an issue that has long been debated in Congress — truthfully, it may be one of the few current political topics with bipartisan agreement.
In fact, recent reports out of Washington suggest the Trump administration may produce an infrastructure bill soon, in order to gain a victory on an issue both Democrats and Republicans can agree on.
Both the President and the Democrats agree the dollar figure for this investment is at least a trillion dollars. That’s a steep price, but it’s a small price to pay to fix our roads, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure, while creating jobs and stimulating the economy.
Where will the funding come from?
Because President Trump is adamant about steering clear of taxpayer dollars, his solution is to fund these infrastructure projects through a mixture of public and private capital. Nevertheless, he would rely most heavily on private-sector investments — and these investments would be incentivized through tax cuts that can later be used to earn these companies money; for example, charging a toll for a repaired bridge or road.
Democrats, however, resist privatization of public infrastructure and favor mostly public spending. On the one hand, it could be a big victory for bipartisan success. On the other hand, it could get bogged down in partisan disagreements about how to pay for it. We’ll know more in the coming weeks.
Effects from the local perspective
Few states need infrastructure infusions as much as Massachusetts. Forty-two percent of our roads are in poor condition. On top of that, 483 of our total 5,171 bridges are considered structurally deficient. And major expansion projects hang in the balance.
Upon recent approval, Somerville and Medford’s Green Line Extension, which will help revitalize Union Square and other parts of the two cities, now has its $2.3 billion funding intact – even without a huge infrastructure bill.
However, other transportation projects are not as fortunate. For example, South Coast Rail, an extension that could bring a commuter rail to New Bedford and Fall River, might not be so lucky. Amtrak receives a substantial amount of federal funding, which Trump has proposed severe cuts to. Such would affect all of Amtrak’s long-distance train lines, in turn affecting the 500 communities served by the transit agency.
Additionally, the North-South Rail Link, which would connect North and South stations, would most likely need federal funding to become a reality. Just to conduct a study on the rail link and its cost and benefit to riders, will cost up to $2 million.
Few states could use infrastructure spending more than Massachusetts, a state that relies to a great degree on 19th century subway system and early 20th century roads and bridges. Let’s hope the President and members of both parties in Congress can finally come together and agree on one important issue. If they can, revitalizations like the one that occurred in Somerville can spring up across the state.