The 2016 presidential election felt like a watershed moment for federal infrastructure reform. For the first time in decades, both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates made infrastructure a central component of their platforms. Their proposals reflected years of consistent calls for congressional action from groups representing cities, states, and industries—all of whom welcomed the opportunity to debate their ideas in pursuit of new legislation and agency policy. Optimism and confidence out of Washington was palpable.
Now, just one year away from another presidential election, the federal government is no closer to wholesale infrastructure reform than it was in 2016. What went so wrong?
Unlike many other issues in the capital, politics was not the major obstacle. Infrastructure is famously nonpartisan in Washington, where both sides of the aisle regularly exchange ideas on transportation, water, and broadband policy. At different times over the past three years, House and Senate leadership expressed support for putting infrastructure debates on the legislative calendar.