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Is it finally going to be Infrastructure Week?

I have three things to say about this:

Lawmakers have been talking about striking a deal to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure for years. It might take a pandemic to finally get them to do it, and Texas officials are already working on their wish lists, with ports, highways, high-speed internet and more potentially on the line.

There’s growing talk of tackling infrastructure as the next step in Congress to stave off economic collapse from the coronavirus outbreak, following the $2 trillion stimulus package that passed last month.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that House Democrats are beginning work now on the next package, including “bold action to renew America’s infrastructure.”

President Donald Trump appears to be on board.

“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill,” Trump tweeted. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country!”

In Texas that could mean a massive injection of federal funding to rebuild highways and bridges, expand ports and brace waterways for future floods. The federal push could also expand much-needed broadband — which 2 million Texans don’t have — with many Americans now stuck at home, relying on the internet for work, school, telemedicine and more.

“Getting the infrastructure bill done makes a lot of sense,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “It will be a really important driver to get our country up and running and back to work once we’re on the other side of COVID-19.”

[…]

In the Houston area, planned widening of Interstate 10 in Fort Bend and Waller counties could be at the top of a priority list of projects, along with expanding Texas 146 from two to three lanes in each direction to relieve a well-known truck bottleneck.

Metropolitan Transit Authority has a long list of projects, but also is still drafting much of its $7.5 billion plan, making it unclear whether Houston’s costliest train and bus projects are ready to reap federal dollars.

Then there are the ports and the Intercoastal Waterway, which will likely be at the top of the list for any major federal infrastructure package, said Ed Emmett, the former Harris County Judge who is now a senior fellow at Rice University.

The Houston Ship Channel needs to be deepened and widened, for one thing. Officials with the Port of Houston have been lobbying for federal help for the $1 billion project that would allow the nation’s busiest waterway to accommodate two-way traffic.

[…]

Emmett said he’ll believe there’s federal infrastructure money coming when he sees it.

“I’m a total cynic when it comes to this,” he said. “Anytime there’s a crisis Congress always says infrastructure — ‘we’re going to go spend on infrastructure’ — and it never happens.”

1. What Ed Emmett says. Past attempts at Infrastructure Week have failed because Donald Trump has the attention span of a toddler who’s been guzzling Red Bull. Show me a bill that at least one chamber has on track for hearings and a vote, and get back to me.

2. If we do get as far as writing a bill, then please let’s limit the amount of money we throw at TxDOT for the purpose of widening highways even more. Fund all of Metro’s projects. Get Lone Star Rail, hell even the distant dream of a high speed rail line from Monterrey to Oklahoma City, off the ground. Build overpasses or underpasses at as many freight rail traffic crossings as possible. Make broadband internet truly universal – hell, make it a public utility and break up the local monopolies on broadband. You get the idea.

3. Ike Dike. Ike Dike, Ike Dike, Ike Dike, Ike Dike. Seriously, any gazillion-dollar infrastructure plan that doesn’t fully fund some kind of Gulf Coast flood mitigation scheme is not worth the paper it’s printed on. Ike Dike or GTFO.

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11 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    “Make broadband internet truly universal – Hell, make it a public utility and break up the local monopolies on broadband. You get the idea.”

    Just to be clear, Kuff, you are calling for the nacionalización of all internet providers, correct? Would this be all of AT&T, Comcast, Hughes, etc., or would you only be seizing the divisions dealing with internet? It seems like it would be difficult to sever the internet assets from the phone and TV assets. Would cell phone providers who offer data be taken over as well?

    This plan would leave businesses and households with only one source/choice for internet, correct? I get that there’s only one water provider in Houston, for example, and that makes sense, but how does this translate to internet? Currently, it’s available from potentially multiple sources, including satellite internet. How will you decide which form of newly nationalized internet capability will be offered, and how will that effect innovation going forward?

    Finally, how will the owners/shareholders of those companies be compensated, if at all, for their losses? What happens to the bondholders?

  2. Ross says:

    @Bill, given that the current crop of internet providers have failed miserably at rolling out broadband everywhere, having government do it would not be a great loss. AT&T, Comcast, etc have fought municipal broadband tooth and nail, even in cities where they have no intention of providing service. They typically only provide service where they think they can make a profit, which is typical of capitalistic enterprises, and then never improve service in areas where revenues aren’t great.

    There is little to no competition among internet providers once you get outside the major cities, leaving people stuck with horrible service and no way to get anything better.

    The situation now is like it was before the Rural Electrification Agency was created to run electricity to rural areas. Absent the REA, much of rural US would still be using kerosene lamps for lighting.

    Before you start gasping about how bad municipal utilities are, Austin’s electricity comes from a municipal provider, and everyone I know who lives in Austin is very happy with it.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    @Ross:

    Agree on rural and small communities not getting private investment in broadband infrastructure, because there’s not the concentration of users to justify investment. Look at Mont Belvieu as an example, where the city decided to build out its own system. I’ve got no issues with Mont Belvieu or other small cities doing exactly that if private industry can’t or won’t service those areas. I also see the parallels with rural electrification…..good example. In general, I’d agree with the concept of expanding broadband access to rural areas. The Devil is always in the details, though, specifically who pays, and how.

    I also don’t have an issue with Austin owning it’s own power system…except for the fact that by owning the infrastructure, it loses lots of tax revenue, and fees for using city owned right-of-ways. All that tax and fee money has to be made up somewhere, right?

    These are good discussions, about how to expand service to under served areas. I was mainly interested in Kuff’s idea of making the internet a public (owned) utility, and the specifics of how that would work.

  4. Manny says:

    I read one sentence about expanding the broadband, everything else was regarding regular infrastructure. From that one Sentence Bill attacks the entire article. This was

    “The federal push could also expand much-needed broadband — which 2 million Texans don’t have — with many Americans now stuck at home, relying on the internet for work, school, telemedicine and more.

    Not sure what Bill is or does, but he does a knack for making everything melodramatic. Would help if he bothered to tell us who he really is. I would not be surprised that he is paid to troll to promote Republican lies.

  5. Ross says:

    @Bill, Austin Energy contributes $100 million+ to the Austin general fund. Franchise fees in the City of Houston budget are $165 million for the 2020 budget. Seems like Austin is collecting a decent amount of revenue in lieu of taxes and fees.

  6. robert says:

    Jules??

  7. C.L. says:

    re: “I was mainly interested in Kuff’s idea of making the internet a public (owned) utility, and the specifics of how that would work.”

    Uh, yeah, I’m calling bullshit on that. ‘Nacionalización’ was just a race baiting dog whistle, followed by a series of rhetorical questions designed to invoke images of a State run socialist society.

    At least you’re consistent.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    C.L.:

    When the US decided to embark on the rural electrification program, as mentioned by Ross, there was little infrastructure already in place, so the system to serve those areas was built out from scratch. Back then, they were talking about new infrastructure, not seizing existing infrastructure, as is being proposed currently. I don’t understand your “dog whistle” quip, other than, “I have no on topic response, so I’ll just go with the ad hominem attack instead”

    Nationalization is what it is. We all know what it means and have seen it implemented before in other countries. I was just wondering how Kuff envisioned implementing it here, now, with the internet providers.

    Most liberal ideas and programs these days center around a strong, government controlled command economy, so where is the dog whistle here? Kuff has proffered an idea that is certainly in the mainstream of liberal policy these days, and I want to know, more specifically, how the implementation of that will work.

    Look, when I tell you straight up we should reopen the economy and let the chips fall where they fall, I’m up front with the specifics, and fully admit that people will die that may not have died, or may have died later, vs. sooner, and that I’m OK that that has to happen to save our country from a severe depression. I’m willing to defend my policy idea and explain it.

    Is it too much to ask that when discussing policy, we [gasp] discuss policy?

  9. Jules says:

    Shut up Bill

  10. Manny says:

    Bill just tell us who you are and commit to not seeking any medical help that would entail you using any medical equipment that could save someone who is willing to die.

    Tell us you won’t accept any help from the government, including sending any money they send you back.

    Until then, quit lying and better yet, follow Jules advice, Shut up!

  11. […] addressing this could be part of Infrastructure Week, or maybe it can be its own item. As the story notes, HISD and some other districts issue laptops […]