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October 5, 2020 3:00 PM, EDT

Extension Shoves Hot Infrastructure Issue to Back Burner

President Trump and Melania Trump step off Air Force One in Cleveland Sept. 29 ahead of the debate.President Trump and Melania Trump step off of Air Force One in Cleveland before the Sept. 29 debate. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images via Bloomberg News)

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With less than one month to go before the presidential election, the condition of the nation’s highway infrastructure — and the need to upgrade it — has once again been spotlighted.

The American Society of Civil Engineers recently projected that $4.1 trillion will be needed from 2020 through 2039 to sustain the country’s surface transportation. “Chronic underinvestment in our surface transportation infrastructure bears severe economic consequences,” the group said. “Subpar roadway conditions and transit that does not meet a state of good repair produces direct costs to businesses and households, as well as to the national economy.”

While the recent enactment of a yearlong extension to the country’s premier highway policy law is a positive step, it also arguably takes the pressure off of the candidates and lawmakers to focus on transportation during the elections.

Eugene Mulero

Mulero

In fact, little mention was made of transportation policy during the Sept. 29 debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, save for a mention from Biden on the potential benefits of adding 500,000 charging stations to the nation’s electric-vehicle charging infrastructure.

With the coronavirus pandemic still dominating the national discussion, it is, perhaps, understandable that other issues are not garnering as much attention as they might under different circumstances. The recent positive diagnoses of the president, first lady, White House staffers and some U.S. senators have justifiably shifted the national discussion to the health and well-being of this democracy’s political representatives. On both personal and political levels, effective treatment for all battling the virus — within government and across the country — is essential to moving the nation forward.

The Week Ahead (all times EDT)

Oct. 7, 9 a.m.: The Surface Transportation Board meets via teleconference for an overview of rail service, infrastructure planning and development, and effective coordination among suppliers.

Oct. 7, 9 p.m.: Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) meet for a debate.

Oct. 8, 10 a.m.: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao participates in a policy discussion hosted by Transport Topics and CQ Roll Call. (Details, register to watch.)

Freight Corridor

A money update courtesy of Forbes.

Election 2020: Pence v Harris

Mike Pence and Kamala Harris

Pence (left) and Harris by Bloomberg News

A task force convened earlier this year by the Trump White House to address concerns and challenges from the coronavirus pandemic has been led by Vice President Mike Pence, the former Indiana governor who also served in the U.S. House of Representatives. On infrastructure, the vice president’s record is linked to that of his boss. The White House has not delivered a comprehensive infrastructure policy proposal this year. During Trump’s tenure, there’s been no major legislative achievement on infrastructure.

Pence’s challenger from California, Sen. Kamala Harris, has an infrastructure policy portfolio that resembles the party’s platform. On climate change, she endorses severe-weather infrastructure resilience. Enhancing renewable energy opportunities is a priority, and the surface transportation networks of the future would embrace electrification. Harris, who also served as her state’s Attorney General, is also known on Capitol Hill for her skill as an interrogator when expert witnesses and political appointees appear before Congress. Pence and Harris are scheduled to debate on Oct. 7.

Buzz

For an in-depth history lesson about the transportation agenda during the Eisenhower administration, visit C-SPAN for last month’s U.S. Capitol Historical Society event featuring Eno Center of Transportation’s Jeff Davis.

Favorite Video

Cars and trucks with automation capabilities. The future is now.

Favorite Tweet

The working life in the Trump White House.

Last Word

If Senate Republicans want to keep the Senate in session during October, I say do it.

— Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Sept. 30.

Sen. Patrick Leahy

We publish weekly when Congress is in session. E-mail emulero@ttnews.com with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics. Jerry Laguerre, a New Jersey-based communications specialist previously with ESPN and the New York Daily News, contributed to this report.

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