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Who’s going to pay for those “gleaming” new US airports Trump wants? Maybe you

NY Governor's Office
Airport of the future.
By Leslie Josephs
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

In an address to Congress this week, president Donald Trump renewed his vow to spend a lot of money to improve the US’s dilapidated transportation network.

“Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our very, very beautiful land,” he declared, costing up to $1 trillion. Trump said this could be paid for by a mix of public and private funds but he hasn’t offered any concrete details.

Some lawmakers have an idea: make travelers pay. Two US Congressmen this week proposed lifting the cap on the “passenger facility charge,” a fee that is added to airline tickets used to maintain or improve US airports. Most US airports already charge the maximum fee (pdf) of $4.50.

“Those who don’t fly, they don’t have to pay,” said Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon and a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who floated the idea.

The US collected about $3.1 billion last year from this fee last year, according to a government estimate—less than a third of the proposed cost of fixing up one of New York’s three airports. While airports use a mix of municipal bonds, private investment, and federal grants (read: taxpayer money) for improvements, the cost of these projects suggests that the passenger fee will either have to rise substantially to have any impact at all—something that DeFazio knows it would be controversial.

“Already, I can hear the screams” from Airlines for America, a US airline lobbying group, he said.

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