Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
It’s the most blunderful time of the year.
Happy Infrastructure Week! This Infrastructure Week promises to be an Infrastructure Week like no other.
First, with observant readers in mind, let us dutifully observe that there are two Infrastructure Weeks. Not two official weeks for celebrating infrastructure, although that is frequently the case. Rather, two organizations that have taken it upon themselves to sometimes declare it Infrastructure Week, a holiday for recognizing our responsibilities and deficiencies second only to Lent. And one of those organizations has given up.
Today, builders, engineers, and manufacturers kicked off Infrastructure Week events at Union Station in Los Angeles and Union Station in Washington, D.C. These bicoastal celebrations are the work of Infrastructure Week, a nonprofit coalition cofounded by the U.S. Chamber of Conference that represents the consolidated interests of more than 400 affiliates. For the last six years, this group has celebrated Infrastructure Week as a formal event to rally support for infrastructure spending (and to acknowledge the central place of infrastructure in the hearts and minds of all Americans).
“No more kicking the can down the road,” said Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a message at D.C.’s kickoff event.
Yet just last week, the White House kicked the can down the road. Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that the Trump administration had no plans to renew its push for infrastructure legislation this year. The White House first teased its not-really-$1-trillion bill last June, as the centerpiece of its very own Infrastructure Week.
That was last year. President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address, in January, was not the homily to infrastructure that America’s builders might have hoped for. But the White House followed suit with a second Infrastructure Week in February, when the administration released details of its legislation. The bill called for just $200 billion in federal spending on infrastructure, with state and local governments (and private spending) to make up the remaining $1.3 trillion. After that, much like upkeep on America’s bridges and roads, the issue fell by the wayside.
Perhaps the president’s horrible record on concretely addressing infrastructure has something to do with his curbed enthusiasm. The White House’s first Infrastructure Week, in June 2017, coincided with former FBI Director James Comey’s explosive testimony before Congress. In mid-August, Trump issued an infrastructure declaration—not a full Week per se—but the president immediately overshadowed himself by saying that “both sides” were responsible for the violence in which white supremacists attacked protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one. During the February edition of Infrastructure Week, Trump’s personal lawyer admitted to paying $130,000 to adult actress Stormy Daniels and a teenager committed the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history in Parkland, Florida.
So the White House is sitting out this Infrastructure Week. In fact, Trump declared this week National Transportation Week, a holiday that is at least adjacent to Infrastructure Week and also features nothing in the way of legislation. Others are sticking with the original fête—in Providence, in Atlanta, in Salt Lake City—and hosting celebratory events. "I think it will be full enough and substantive enough that people will know that this is the real Infrastructure Week," Marcia Hale, the president of the political advocacy group Building America's Future, one of Infrastructure Week’s top sponsors, told Politico last month. Fake holidays manufactured for publicity are an American specialty. But, at least at the White House, it seems no amount of publicity can manufacture a real bill.