Election Exclusive: America’s Infrastructure

What Do The Clinton And Trump Campaigns Have To Say About Infrastructure? The Answer Is, Not Nearly Enough.

By Mark S. Kuhar

As Election 2016 heats up, it behooves everyone in the aggregates industry to take a good look at what the presidential candidates are saying and proposing in the way of infrastructure investment.

With approximately 90 days left before Election Day, a new national poll released by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) found that half of registered voters say the nation’s infrastructure has gotten worse over the last five years, and a majority of voters said roads and bridges are in “extreme” need of repair.

The poll found that registered voters, regardless of political affiliation, recognize the declining state of the nation’s infrastructure as an issue that should be addressed and believe that the federal government should do more to improve infrastructure across the board.

The national poll identified a number of key findings, including:

  • Nearly half (46 percent) of registered voters believe that the state of the nation’s infrastructure has gotten worse in the last five years.
  • A significant majority (80-90 percent) of registered voters say that roads, bridges and energy grids are in some or extreme need of repairs.
  • Half (49 percent) of the surveyed population feel that the federal government is primarily responsible for funding repairs to the nation’s infrastructure.
  • Seven out of every 10 registered voters say increasing federal funding for infrastructure will have a positive impact on the economy.
  • More than eight out of every 10 Americans consider water infrastructure (86 percent), solar powered homes (83 percent) and smart infrastructure (82 percent) as the top three important innovations for the future of infrastructure.
  • Voters across the political spectrum think that the federal government should do more to improve the nation’s overall infrastructure, with 68 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Independents and 76 percent of Democrats sharing this sentiment.
  • Registered voters also feel that government across the board should be doing more to improve the nation’s overall infrastructure, with 76 percent of individuals surveyed wanting more from state governments, 72 percent looking to the federal government to do more and 70 percent expecting more from local governments.


“Both presidential nominees have voiced their strong support for infrastructure investment,” said Ron De Feo, CEO of Kennametal and chairman of AEM’s Infrastructure Vision 2050 initiative. “The specific ideas and proposals they offer over the next 90 days will be critically important, and voters should consider them carefully on Election Day.”

A Look at the Platforms
Before looking at the candidates specifically, let’s take a look at the official party platforms. These were approved at the national conventions held in July.

The Democratic Party Platform states:

If we are serious about reversing the decline of the middle class, we need major federal investments to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and put millions of Americans back to work in decent paying jobs in both the public and private sectors.

The climate emergency and the need to expand the middle class demand that we make the most ambitious investment in American infrastructure since President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system.

  • We will put Americans to work updating and expanding our roads, bridges, public transit, airports, and passenger and freight rail lines.
  • We will build 21st century energy and water systems, modernize our schools, and continue to support the expansion of high-speed broadband networks.
  • We will protect communities from the impact of climate change and help them to mitigate its effects by investing in green and resilient infrastructure.
  • We will address the backlog of deferred maintenance in our four key public land management agencies.
  • And we will protect public health and safety by modernizing drinking and wastewater systems.

These investments will create secure, good-paying middle-class jobs today and will substantially increase demand for American-made steel and other products manufactured in the United States. And by boosting economic growth in a fair and equitable way, and strengthening our long-term competitiveness, these investments will create many more jobs in the years to come.

Democrats will also create an independent, national infrastructure bank that will support critical infrastructure improvements. This bank will provide loans and other financial assistance for investments in energy, water, broadband, transportation and multi-modal infrastructure projects.

Democrats will continue to support the interest tax exemption on municipal bonds and will work to establish a permanent version of Build America Bonds as an additional tool to encourage infrastructure investment by state and local governments.

Furthermore, Democrats will fight to ensure resources and programs are adequately targeted to provide economic development, job training and critical infrastructure investment in areas of the greatest need.

The Republican Party Platform states:

Our country’s investments in transportation and other public construction have traditionally been non-partisan. Everyone agrees on the need for clean water and safe roads, rail, bridges, ports and airports.

President Eisenhower established a tradition of Republican leadership in this regard by championing the creation of the interstate highway system. In recent years, bipartisan cooperation led to major legislation improving the nation’s ports and waterways.

Our Republican majority ended the practice of earmarks, which often diverted transportation spending to politically favored projects. In the current Congress, Republicans have secured the longest reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund in a decade and are advancing a comprehensive reform of the Federal Aviation Administration to make flying easier and more secure.

The current Administration has a different approach. It subordinates civil engineering to social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit. Its ill-named Livability Initiative is meant to “coerce people out of their cars.” This is the same mentality that once led Congress to impose by fiat a single maximum speed limit for the entire nation, from Manhattan to Montana. Our 1980 Republican Platform pledged to repeal that edict. After the election of Ronald Reagan, we did.

Now we make the same pledge regarding the current problems in transportation policy. We propose to remove from the Highway Trust Fund programs that should not be the business of the federal government.

More than a quarter of the Fund’s spending is diverted from its original purpose. One fifth of its funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities. Additional funds are used for bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping and historical renovations. Other beneficiaries of highway money are ferry boats, the federal lands access program, scenic byways and education initiatives. These worthwhile enterprises should be funded through other sources.

We propose to phase out the federal transit program and reform provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act which can delay and drive up costs for transportation projects. We renew our call for repeal of the Davis-Bacon law, which limits employment and drives up construction and maintenance costs for the benefit of unions.

Recognizing that, over time, additional revenue will be needed to expand the carrying capacity of roads and bridges, we will remove legal roadblocks to public-private partnership agreements that can save the taxpayers’ money and bring outside investment to meet a community’s needs. With most of the states increasing their own funding for transportation, we oppose a further increase in the federal gas tax.

Some of these proposals are opposed by the National, Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA), notably issues surrounding the federal gas tax.

Michael Johnson, NSSGA President and CEO

“It is encouraging to see that each party continues to recognize the importance of investing in a modern and efficient surface transportation system, which they demonstrated with bipartisan support for the FAST Act back in December 2015,” said NSSGA President and CEO Michael Johnson. “NSSGA has consistently said the longest surface transportation reauthorization in 10 years was an important step in the right direction. The FAST Act provides states with some funding certainty to once again begin to work on essential transportation projects.”

“NSSGA has also been consistent in saying that Congress did not completely address the country’s infrastructure needs with that bill,” Johnson said. “The next four years will pass very quickly and Congress must turn its focus to creating a sustainable funding mechanism that will ensure the nation’s surface transportation system meets the demands of the 21st century by stably funding its long-term development and continuous maintenance needs.

“We are on-record as supporting an increase in the federal user fee on motor fuels and have also consistently supported the development of supplemental or alternative funding mechanisms,” Johnson continued. “Any way that it is capitalized, the Highway Trust Fund must provide for today’s critical transportation projects while allowing for innovative improvements to meet future needs.”

Other associations, such as the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) share NSSGA’s view,

“The Democratic Platform finalized July 21 calls for a dramatic push to rebuild the nation’s transportation infrastructure and highlights the job creation benefits that would result,” said Dave Bauer, ARTBA senior vice president, government relations. “While the proposal is certainly positive, the language is far less specific and ambitious than the infrastructure plan released in December 2015 by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “By contrast, the GOP Platform includes specific proposals (such as opposing a gas tax increase and stripping public transportation from the Highway Trust Fund) that Donald Trump has never mentioned.”

Dave Bauer, ARTBA senior vice president

“Platforms are typically non-binding and largely political documents which attempt to articulate each political party’s vision for the future – point illustrated by congressional passage of the 2015 five-year surface-transportation program reauthorization legislation,” Bauer said. “More than 70 percent of Republicans in the House and Senate supported the measure which increased public transportation investment, retained all of the programs the GOP 2016 platform cites as objectionable, and cut by 70 percent funding for a program designed to facilitate public-private partnerships on transportation improvement projects.”

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) took aim at the pros and cons of both party’s platforms.

“The general election has begun in earnest after the Republican convention in Cleveland and the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton formally accepted their respective parties’ presidential nominations,” said AEM President Dennis Slater. “How would a President Trump or President Clinton govern on issues of infrastructure? Both the party platforms and each candidate’s public comments offer some clues.

Dennis Slater, AEM President

“The party platforms hue closely to typical partisan talking points,” Slater said. “Democrats adopted language suggesting the party would support new transportation and utility infrastructure investments that both repair existing infrastructure, as well as make key expansions. The party also proposes infrastructure projects consistent with the party’s goal of mitigating climate change. On the funding side, Democrats also propose to capitalize a national infrastructure bank and promote tax-free municipal bonds to stimulate public-private partnerships to support infrastructure projects.

“Republicans, meanwhile, propose removing programs related to mass transit, bike programs and other quality-of-life projects from the Highway Trust Fund,” Slater continued. “Republicans also propose reforming laws requiring environmental reviews of construction projects and prevailing wage laws favored by unions, which the GOP says drive up the cost of projects. Republicans’ platform does acknowledge that ‘additional revenue will be needed’ to support future transportation infrastructure investments, but the party opposes raising the gas tax, and does not specify a preferred alternative.

“For equipment manufacturers, the important point is that the details matter,” Slater concluded. “We want to have our industry voice heard, through AEM, its members and members’ employees – to stress the importance of a well-thought out plan to address our infrastructure investment needs. With less than 100 days to go until Election Day, AEM is looking forward to both campaigns putting more meat on the bones of their proposals.”

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton: Plan in Place
Hillary Clinton’s campaign website specifically targets infrastructure investment. Her plan falls far short financially of what many industry experts agree is needed to rebuild America.

The site says:

“Investing in our infrastructure is about so much more than creating good-paying jobs: it’s about maintaining our status as the world’s economic superpower,” the site states. “That means making smart investments in ports, airports, roads and waterways to address the key chokepoints for the movement of goods in our economy – connecting businesses and farmers to their suppliers and customers and enhancing U.S. competitiveness in the global economy. It means giving all American households access to world-class broadband and creating connected “smart cities” with infrastructure that’s part of tomorrow’s Internet of Things. It means building airports and air traffic control systems that set the world standard for efficiency, reliability, and safety – saving time, money and energy on every trip. It means a smart, resilient electrical grid that powers America’s clean energy future. It means safe, smart roads and highways that are ready for the connected cars of tomorrow and the new energy sources that will power them. And it means changing the way we make our infrastructure investments – so that every dollar we spend goes further.”

Specific proposals include:

Boost federal infrastructure investment by $275 billion over the next five years. There is simply no substitute for robust public investment in infrastructure to enhance our competitiveness, give families a better life, combat climate change, and protect our communities. Clinton will work to increase federal infrastructure funding by $275 billion over the next five years, of which $250 billion would be allocated to direct public investment. She will fully pay for these investments through business tax reform.

Reauthorize a Build America Bonds program to help finance the rebuilding of America’s infrastructure. The Obama Administration’s Build America Bonds (BABs) program stimulated investment in infrastructure – broadening the market for municipal borrowing by attracting new sources of capital, such as pension funds, that do not receive benefits associated with traditional tax-exempt debt. The program was hugely successful: in just two years, BABs supported more than $180 billion in infrastructure spending in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. BABs are a more efficient way of helping to finance infrastructure spending than traditional tax-exempt municipal debt, as tax-exempt municipal debt ends up benefiting not just infrastructure projects but also high-income purchasers of the debt. As President, Clinton would reauthorize the Build America Bonds program so that the federal support goes entirely toward rebuilding America’s infrastructure.

Create a $25 billion national infrastructure bank – providing up to an additional $225 billion in federally supported investment for energy, water, broadband, transportation and multi-modal infrastructure projects. Clinton is not only committed to substantially increasing federal funding for infrastructure investment. She will also work alongside state and local governments to help unlock private pools of capital – including pension funds – to complement public investment in America’s infrastructure. That’s why she will allocate $25 billion over five years to an independent, government-owned infrastructure bank with a bipartisan board of highly qualified directors authorized to make critical investments in building 21st century infrastructure. The bank will:

  • Provide loans, loan guarantees and other forms of credit enhancement. The bank would focus on projects of regional and national significance, emphasizing investments in complex multi-modal projects like freight and port improvements, and in projects to modernize our energy, water, broadband, and transportation systems in urban and rural communities. The bank will operate with prevailing wage standards and domestic sourcing requirements for project materials.
  • Be empowered to authorize issuance of special, “super” Build America Bonds to support state and local investment. The Bank would also be empowered to authorize issuance of “super-BABs” by state and local governments that would provide greater federal government support than would otherwise be available for deserving projects of regional and national significance.
  • Select projects based on merit, not politics. To ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, the bank will require applicants to demonstrate that their projects will be in the public interest, cost-effective for taxpayers, economically productive, and resilient to the expected future impacts of climate change.
  • Provide a center of excellence. Building on the work of President Obama’s Build America Transportation Investment Center, the bank will offer a one-stop-shop to states, municipalities, and project sponsors seeking to utilize federal resources and expertise in developing infrastructure projects that will benefit the American public.


Clinton will also support existing credit programs that are already working well – like the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which finances transformative transportation projects across the country.

Apply best practices to improve the way we invest in infrastructure and get the most for the American people’s money. Investing more in our infrastructure isn’t enough – the way America currently designs, funds, and builds infrastructure projects needs repair. Clinton would make sure taxpayers are getting the most bang for their buck. She would work to ensure that projects are selected on impact, not politics, streamline permitting, break down silos that limit funds to a single type of transportation, and encourage 21st century design and technology. These reforms would do more than save taxpayers money – they would encourage private capital currently sitting on the sidelines to invest in America’s future, her website states.

Republician nominee Donald Trump

Donald Trump: The Wall
Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s campaign website does not detail any infrastructure proposals. However, on the campaign trail Trump vowed to “build the greatest infrastructure on the planet earth – the roads and railways and airports of tomorrow.”

“When I see the crumbling roads and bridges, or the dilapidated airports or the factories moving overseas to Mexico, or to other countries for that matter, I know these problems can all be fixed, but not by Hillary Clinton,” Trump said in a speech earlier this year. “Only by me.”

The billionaire drew on his experience in the real estate world to argue he is more capable of advancing infrastructure projects than his likely general election opponent. “Construction is what I know,” Trump said. “Nobody knows it better.”

Trump has offered few clues about how he would tackle an estimated $1.4 trillion infrastructure shortfall in the next decade. He has previously called for major investments in the transportation system and even acknowledged it would likely cost taxpayer dollars.

Trump told Fox Business Network’s Stuart Varney that Clinton’s infrastructure proposal is “a fraction of what we’re talking about” and that he would raise money for transportation projects through a fund.

“I would say at least double her numbers, and you’re really going to need more than that. We have bridges that are falling down,” Trump said. “We’ll get a fund, we’ll make a phenomenal deal with the low interest rates and rebuild our infrastructure.”

That would put any official Trump plan, if it indeed is proposed, at more than half a trillion dollars – larger than the plan proposed by Bernie Sanders, who on the campaign trail called for a $400 billion investment. When pressed on who would put money into the fund, Trump said: “people, investors.”

We would be remiss if we did not include Trump’s plan for “The Wall” when discussing his vision for infrastructure.

Trump put an $8 billion price tag on the wall he wants to build on the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. He also described the wall in a bit more detail. It would be 1,000 miles long, made of precast concrete slabs, rising 35 to 40 ft. in the air. The other 1,000 miles would be taken care of via natural barriers, or by existing walls, etc.

Trump has repeatedly said Mexico will pay for the wall, though Mexican leaders dismiss that as a fantasy. He has suggested that the money would come from reducing the $50 billion trade deficit with Mexico or by withholding other monies currently sent to Mexico as part of immigration deals. But is his $8 billion estimate in the realm of possibility?

According to an analysis undertaken by the Washington Post, under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the United States has already spent $2.4 billion for fencing across nearly one-third of the border (670 miles). It’s unclear if Trump would replace the fence with the wall or supplement the fence with the wall. (The fence is mostly vehicle barriers and single-layer pedestrian fence, which presumably is inadequate for Trump’s purposes.)

But the fence, while different from a wall, does provide some sense of the numbers involved. The Government Accountability Office in 2009 said the cost to build a mile of the fence initially averaged between $2.8 million and $3.9 million. But that was in the easiest areas, near metropolitan centers; other areas in the desert or mountains could cost as much as $16 million a mile.

So 1,000 miles of fences is at best $3 billion, and certainly much higher than that. A concrete wall would clearly be an order of high magnitude.

In an interesting article for The National Memo, structural engineer Ali F. Rhuzkan tried to do the calculations just for the concrete assuming a 2,000 ft. wall would be needed to satisfy Trump.

He wrote, “If we assume a border wall length of 1,954 miles (there are 600 or so miles of existing border barrier, but much of this would not qualify for Trump’s wall), then we can make some estimates as to the volume of concrete needed for the project.”

  • Foundation: 6 ft. deep, 18 in. radius = 42.4 cu. ft.
  • Column: 4 square ft. area by 30 ft. tall = 120 cu. ft.
  • Wall panels: 25 ft. tall by 10 ft. long by 8 in. thick = 166.7 cu. ft.
  • Total concrete per 10-ft. segment = 329.1 cu. ft.
  • 1,954 miles = 10,300,00 ft. = 1,030,000 segments (10-ft. long each)
  • 1,030,000 segments @ 329.1 cu. ft. per segment = 339,000,000 cu. ft. = 12,555,000 cu. yd.

That amounts to almost 19 million tons of aggregate.

In other words, the Trump wall would contain more than three times the amount of concrete used to build the Hoover Dam. Such a wall would be greater in volume than all six pyramids of the Giza

So just for two raw materials, we are looking at nearly $2 billion. But of course, the wall would need to be designed, land would need to be acquired, environmental impact statements would need to be done, concrete-casting facilities would need to be built, materials would need to be shipped, and workers would need to be hired, housed and fed. One industry expert has suggested that before a wall could be built, a road the length of the wall would have to be built first to move construction materials to and from the project.

The Washington Post spoke to a retired estimator and economist for one of the nation’s largest construction firms. He worked through some of the math, though he did not want to be identified publicly. Roughly, he said a wall of this type would cost at least $25 billion. Building the wall would also require at least 40,000 workers a year for at least four years, but he doubted it could be built so quickly.

The concrete panels would need to be at least 8 in. thick and be 40 ft. tall (35 ft. above ground and 5 ft. underground). He estimated that it would cost about $10 billion for the concrete panels and $5-6 billion for steel columns to hold the panels, including labor. Concrete footing for the columns and a concrete foundation would add another $1 billion. A road would need to be built so 20-ton trucks could deliver the materials; that’s another $2 billion. Then you need to add another 30 percent for engineering, design, management and so forth. That adds up to nearly $25 billion – three times Trump’s estimate.

Some of the calculations are staggering. The foundations would require nearly 2.5 to 3 million cu. yd. of concrete, which requires poured-in-place concrete to be delivered along the length of the wall. “That’s 250,000 to 300,000 truckloads, 20-ton each of concrete,” he said. Then the excavated earth would need to be hauled somewhere and disposed – nearly 3 million cu. yd., or enough soil to cover 17 acres 100 ft. deep. That’s 90,000 truckloads of 40 tons each.

There is also the question of who pays for the inevitable upkeep and repair, including damage very likely to occur on the Mexican side. And then there is the question, do we pay to remove the graffiti that is certain to show up along the length of the wall, or consider it a provocative 2,000-mile-long art project?

Bottom line: The project would not be impossible. But it would cost a lot of money and require site-specific logistics never attempted on a construction project in the United States. And it would require a LOT of aggregate.


In evaluating the candidates on the basis of their inclusion of infrastructure in stump speeches and policy proposals, one thing is certain. What they are saying is not enough.

To build a 21st century infrastructure, it will take an adequate amount of money paid for by appropriate means.

“Americans across the political spectrum understand the dire state of U.S. infrastructure and believe that the federal government should do more to improve our infrastructure,” said Slater. “Voters recognize that increased federal funding for assets such as roads, bridges, and inland waterways will have a positive impact on the economy, and they are looking to the federal government to repair and modernize.”

“America is doing well when the aggregate industry is doing well,” Johnson said. “That is because when we are building, we are growing the economy. Infrastructure projects are the most productive building our nation can do because they facilitate more efficient and effective commerce and result in more good-paying jobs. This year, as we do every election cycle, NSSGA will work to educate voters and motivate the people of our industry to support candidates who understand the importance of investing in local and national infrastructure, and the value of the aggregates industry to those projects.”

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