State of the Union: Infrastructure Week Is Finally Over

Infrastructure went from playing a major role in the State of the Union address a year ago. This year infrastructure warranted barely even a nod—about 62 words, in fact.

Read Time: 4 minutes

February 6, 2019, 11:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

New York City

CarmenManiega / Shutterstock

President Donald's Trump first State of the Union address in 2018 featured 188 words on infrastructure, and plenty to talk about for weeks after the speech was done. 

The infrastructure section of last year's State of the Union was classic Trump, displaying his penchant for raising the stakes of his boasts beyond expectations. In 2016, Trump the Republican candidate for president announced a $500 billion infrastructure plan. By the election in November 2016, that number had grown to $1 trillion. On the massive stage provided by the State of the Union, President Trump dropped the $1.5 trillion figure. The upward trajectory of those promises might have recalled an infomercial where the deal keeps getting better. ("But wait...there's more!")

In 2018, President Trump also promised to reduce federal permitting to a two-year process. President Trump even tacked on a "perhaps even one" to that promise. ("But wait..there's more!") 

A promise to expedite permitting is a familiar refrain for politicians at every level of government. Savvy observers know to take such proclamations with a grain of salt. But, at least back in 2018 President Trump made the appearance of providing some substance to his infrastructure promises. It was Trump's tendency to sweeten the pot that brought me back to the speech this year with the hopes of the president playing at least a few cards on the subject.

Instead, Trump made no mention of the promise to expedite reviews, nor did he tack any more hundreds of millions onto any dollar figures. In 2019, here is all President Trump has to say about infrastructure:

Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure. I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill –and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting edge industries of the future.

This is not an option.

This is a necessity.

But wait...there must be more.

Perhaps this is President Trump waving the white flag on infrastructure. Since the 2018 State of the Union, Trump's ambitions as a great builder president have fallen far short. The details of the $1.5 trillion plan—actually just a $200 billion investment—fell far short of Trump's boasts. The plan also never had any political traction in Washington, D.C., even when the Republican Party still controlled both houses of Congress. Trump, the Republican president, started using the word "tax" when talking about how to fund his plan.

Trump's promise to speed up federal permitting in the 2018 State of the Union also yielded few results. Cabinet secretaries signed a memorandum of understanding that promised to rework environmental review processes. It would take a major leap of faith to believe the Trump administration will deliver effective reforms any time soon, despite its proven skill in clearing the way for industry to do whatever it wants without concern for the environment and public health.

Promises of FDR-level investments infrastructure, it seems, have fallen off the list of applause lines President Trump tracks at his political rallies. Instead, we get 62 words shoehorned in between promises about tariffs and the price of prescription drugs—a segue at best.

That segue doesn't even amount to much—the promise hinges on the incredibly vague words "new" and "important." Investments in "the cutting edge industries of the future" sounds more like an economic development program, or an Amazon headquarters search, than a robust campaign to solve the nation's infrastructure woes. What happened to Republicans hating the idea of governments picking winners in the economy?

Last year, it might have been possible to believe that President Trump wanted to invest time, energy, and money commensurate with the word count of the infrastructure passage of the 2018 State of the Union—even if the political feasibility of his ambitions were low to none.

There was less reason to even humor the possibility of good faith during last night's State of the Union—and that goes for almost everyone sitting on the House floor.

President Trump can't stop lying for even one day (as detailed by Daniel Dale for the Toronto Star), and the State of the Union didn't provide an occasion to end that pattern (as documented in real time last night by The Washington Post). 

Despite the evidence in front of our eyes—that President Trump's boasts are based on lies and he lacks the political skill or the moral authority to achieve any of his lofty promises—the State of the Union still gives (almost every member of) Congress an occasion to stand and applaud.


More recommended details and analysis of the State of the Union:

James Brasuell

James Brasuell is a writer and editor, producing web, print, and video content on the subjects of planning, urbanism, and mobility. James has managed all editorial content and direction for Planetizen since 2014 and was promoted to editorial director in 2021.


The Top Urban Planning Books of 2022

An annual list of the must-read books related to urban planning and its intersecting fields.

November 28, 2022 - James Brasuell

Urban separated bike lane with street trees on one side and cars parked on the other

How Urban Trees Save Lives

New research shows a strong connection between a healthy urban tree canopy and lowered mortality rates.

December 1, 2022 - Congress For New Urbanism


Anchorage Eliminates Parking Requirements Citywide

Anchorage is the latest city to enact sweeping parking reforms, in another blow to the car-centric status quo of planning.

November 23, 2022 - Anchorage Daily News

Rendering of Van Ness Avenue with Bus Rapid Transit

Some States Use More Highway Funding for Transit Than Others

A news study brings the receipts on state and regional transportation spending.

December 2 - TransitCenter

Station with rown of red Capital Bikeshare parked bikes on Washington, D.C. sidewalk

Bikeshare Ridership Up From Pre-Pandemic Levels

Shared micromobility, particularly docked bikeshare systems, are seeing record growth, but ‘scooter inflation’ may cool riders’ enthusiasm.

December 2 - Bloomberg CityLab

Metro Bus

Free Rides, Overnight Service Considered for Metro Transit in D.C.

Washington, D.C. councilmembers are making a bold commitment to public transit.

December 2 - The Washington Post

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.