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269753

Rural America Is a Focus in Trump Infrastructure Plan

The White House is thinking big with its outline of $1.5 trillion in infrastructure improvements, 50% more than it first suggested, for “gleaming new roads, bridges, railways, and waterways all across our land,” in President Trump’s words. But there are questions if the proposed federal share of $200 billion would be large enough. The Waterways Council, for example, says shippers could face huge increases in tolls or fees to maintain inland waterways. State, county, and city officials say a strong federal-state-local partnership will be critical to success.

One fourth of the federal money – $50 billion – would be earmarked for rural America. Some 80% of it will be in block grants for state governors to distribute and 20% for “rural performance grants” aimed at transportation, broadband, water resource management, power and electric, and water, sewer, and land restoration projects. The White House expects expansion of high-speed internet service in rural areas will be a popular goal. Nearly 40% of rural Americans do not have broadband access.

Ag groups are optimistic about an upgrade of public works in rural areas. NFU President Roger Johnson says the administration recognized the need for significant investment in rural infrastructure. The White House says it would provide an average 14% of funding for infrastructure projects, with the rest of the $1.5 trillion to come from states, local governments, and investors. Skeptics fear the result will be higher fuel taxes, tolls, user fees, and private ownership of public facilities, given that many localities say they are short of money.

Local initiative played a role in the administration’s selection of Kenneth Johnson, chief executive of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Tipton, Missouri, to head USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, which oversees programs from water and sewer facilities to electrical lines and telecommunications. “Co-Mo is the first to deploy a fiber-to-the-home network to all of its members without federal or state funding, providing gigabit internet, video, and voice services to nearly 16,000 subscribers,” says the White House. 

This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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