Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh take their political bromance to Washington next week. Their ultimate goal: more federal funds sent our way for roads, transit, and other infrastructure.
Good luck, guys. You’ll need it.
The trip will take place during “Infrastructure Week,” an annual conference, of sorts, sponsored by business and labor interests. Think Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, but for lobbyists and the people they court in the federal government. The conference now spans the country — yes, there are even events in Boston. But its focal point remains D.C., close to the people who control the purse strings.
Baker and Walsh plan to meet with members of the state’s congressional delegation, of course. They’ll also confer with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as well as Representative Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The Republican governor and Democratic mayor frequently chastise the political gridlock within the Beltway, in contrast to the relatively smooth city-state relationships back home. Exhibit A: the infrastructure logjam in Washington. The much-ballyhooed bipartisanship between Baker and Walsh will inevitably come up next week. Crossing party lines often sounds like a clever government strategy — if not a downright novelty — these days, rather than being par for the course.
Walsh referred to a Washington trip during his State of the City speech in January, but he hadn’t yet coordinated with Baker on when to go. They eventually settled on Infrastructure Week. They intended the topic to dominate their conversations in D.C., anyway.
There might be a new reason for hope. President Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress agreed last week to work toward a $2 trillion infrastructure package. Republican lawmakers almost instantly sounded the alarm about the costs. There’s that crazy federal debt to worry about, and many GOP leaders bristle at the mere mention of adding extra pennies to the nation’s gas tax.
The “how to pay for it” question has put a damper on the conversation, as it often does. Trump is supposed to reconvene with the Democrats later this month to work out some of the details.
Pat Jones, chief executive of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, says he’ll continue to press for more highway tolling options as an alternative.
Their visits next Wednesday and Thursday will mark Walsh’s first trip to Washington with Baker. While he has visited D.C. before, Walsh says the last time he went there with a Massachusetts official during his tenure as mayor was to persuade the Postal Service to move out of its Fort Point facility. Nearly four years later, the USPS has shown no sign it’s ready to relocate.
Walsh says he has no plans to lobby for specific projects this time. The bigger the overall amount, he says, the more opportunities for Boston to get some of it.
Some federal help sure would come in handy on the state level, too.
The Baker administration is advancing several big-ticket projects in desperate need of funding. There’s the $1 billion-plus realignment of the Mass. Pike through Allston, for example, or the $2 billion-plus South Station expansion (assuming someone persuades the Postal Service to move). When Baker met with the New England Council last month, he talked optimistically about a plan in the works at the Army Corps of Engineers to address the notorious traffic jams around the two Cape Cod bridges. The Corps controls the canal bridges — they need replacing soon — but state officials also want to fix the road network that leads to them.
The phrase Infrastructure Week has evolved into a bit of an inside joke in Washington since it was co-opted to describe various attempts to roll out Trump plans. They haven’t gone far, in part because of their heavy reliance on private-sector dollars. There are indications Trump may be ready to compromise. But getting the Republicans in Congress on board could be as crucial.
Baker and Walsh will make their trip and their pleas — and hope for the best.
After all, when you run a state or a city with aging roads and trains, every week is infrastructure week.