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Elaine Chao will have the easiest time getting the worst job in Trump's Cabinet

Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Of all of Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees, Elaine Chao will have a relatively easy time getting confirmed.

But in her new job at the Department of Transportation, there may be a rough road ahead.

Chao stands to inherit a long-term funding crisis in the nation's transportation system, and in spite of Trump's promises to invest heavily in infrastructure, finding the money may not prove any easier for her than it was for any of her predecessors of the past 10 to 15 years.

"She's going to have a really difficult time managing the needs of the system," said Katie Thomson, the department's general counsel from 2014 to 2016. "There just isn't enough money to go around."

Every year since 2008, the federal fund that pays to build and maintain roads, bridges and transit systems has fallen short of the revenue needed by the states.

Congress has not raised the federal gasoline tax that supports it since 1993, and has shown little inclination to do so. Transportation spending exceeds revenues by $14 billion a year, and that's projected to increase to $21 billion a year within eight years.

"The Highway Trust Fund is in bad shape," Chao soberly noted in her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

And that's just to maintain the current level of funding to keep the system in good repair. Meanwhile, the oldest parts of the Interstate Highway System are approaching 60 years old and need to be rebuilt.

Trump's campaign platform included the promise of "a bold, visionary plan for a cost-effective system of roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, railroads, ports and waterways, and pipelines."

Trump's fiscal blueprint consists largely of tax credits to stimulate private investment.

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