Democrats, Department of Transportation Clash Over Proposal to Advertise Trump Infrastructure Plan

As transportation officials gathered in Washington for the start of the semi-annual spending summit on July 3, Democrats raised questions about a proposed advertising campaign for a national toll road that they said would violate the Federal Highway Administration’s advertising standards.

The proposed campaign, called “American Solutions: The South Coast Highway Needs Maintenance & Improvements Act,” includes a picture of a white truck and seven United States flags with text that states: “Traffic congestion on the South Coast Highway costs the nation billions every year in wasted travel time, fuel, and money. Repeal the HOV rule and build an all-electronic toll system on the South Coast Highway to free up traffic flow and reduce traffic jams.”

There is the potential conflict, Democrats said, that the bill has been identified in a DOT document as a bill that would be eligible for funding from the upcoming $1.2 trillion transportation funding bill.

Democrats said they questioned whether any of the roughly $46 million in estimated “savings” are offset by additional expenses to implement an all-electronic tolling system on the South Coast Highway. (A transportation official said the agency “is confident” in the $46 million estimate.) Democrats also said that the proposal “unfairly diverts funds and opportunity to another agency that should not be in a position to compete for funding” from the federal government, in response to a Transportation Department blog post on Tuesday.

“If it is the wish of these organizations that Americans can’t drive on certain roads, if they want to fundamentally rethink and redesign the US highway system, let them do that,” said Jerold G. Cohen, the deputy transportation secretary, according to a report in Roll Call. “But to tell a federal agency to assess tolling a road and potentially send federal funds to that specific entity, that is exactly what we haven’t seen before, and to me it’s an abuse of the discretion of this office.”

Department officials denied the idea that their proposal violates the law. The proposal would meet all the parameters set out in the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s advertising program, according to an official with knowledge of the department’s advertising effort.

A representative for the U.S. Department of Transportation denied that the “American Solutions” campaign “misuses Federal highway Administration dollars,” according to Roll Call.

Republicans and Democrats have gotten along during the time of President Donald Trump, but their continued differences over infrastructure funding may test the working relationship.

Mr. Trump has proposed to boost infrastructure spending by spending $200 billion over 10 years and then relying on states to come up with matching funds to add to the budget.

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