KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
President Trump left behind the controversies facing his administration for a little while today. He went to Cincinnati to try to turn the focus to his plan to fix the nation's crumbling infrastructure, and he did fill in a few more details of the plan to invest up to a trillion dollars in airports, bridges, highways, railways and waterways.
NPR's David Schaper is in Cincinnati near the Ohio River where the president spoke earlier today, and he's with us now. And David, why did the president speak there on the river front?
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Well, the idea from the White House's perspective was to draw some attention to a vital part of the country's infrastructure that doesn't usually get a lot of attention, and that is the 12,000 miles of inland waterways through which billions of dollars' worth of coal and steel and oil and grain and all kinds of other products or are shipped.
Those are usually shipped on barges, and the barges that carry those goods rely on a system of locks and dams that is aging and falling into disrepair, built in the 1930s but designed to really last only about 50 years. So that creates a lot of congestion on the waterways and delays shipments. And President Trump says it's all part of an example of a promise that he says previous administrations have made to have a safe, reliable and modern infrastructure that just hasn't been met.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We build in foreign countries. We spend trillions and trillions of dollars outside of our nation. But we can't build a road, a highway, a tunnel a bridge in our own nation. And we watch everything falling into disrepair. It's time to rebuild our country, to bring back our jobs, to restore our dreams. And yes, it's time finally to put America first. And that's what I've been doing, if you haven't noticed.
MCEVERS: So what were the details of how this is going to be paid for?
SCHAPER: Well, for the first time, we actually have a figure of how much money will come from direct federal funding sources, and that is $200 billion the president says that he will spend on infrastructure. Now, that money is not a trillion, as he has promised, but he says that that will be essentially a down payment that can leverage private investment, that can be used to match state and local funds.
And a lot of that direct federal funding, he says, is going to go to the rural parts of the country which have less of ability to implement toll roads and other types of mechanisms that could pay back some private funds that are used to build infrastructure.
MCEVERS: How else did the president talk about getting this infrastructure plan off the ground?
SCHAPER: Well, he complains a lot about the red tape and the rules and regulations that delay the permitting process and that keep projects mired in uncertainty for years and years and years. He says it takes up to 10 years sometimes to get a project approved, and he's already gone through the federal administration and starting to rip up that red tape and eliminating the regulations that caused the delays in getting these projects approved.
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TRUMP: So we're getting rid of the regulations, and we're massively streamlining the approvals and the permitting process. Already my administration has expedited environmental reviews and critical energy projects all across the country. They're getting approved so fast. Thousands and thousands of big jobs - big, big jobs. I don't mean individual jobs. I'm talking about project-type jobs. Thousands of them are being approved rapidly.
MCEVERS: So today he was talking about waterways. What's he going to be talking about tomorrow?
SCHAPER: Well, the president has made this his infrastructure week, so he'll be meeting with mayors and governors at the White House tomorrow. And looking ahead to Friday, he's got an event planned at the Department of Transportation to focus more on transportation infrastructure.
MCEVERS: NPR's David Schaper in Cincinnati, thank you.
SCHAPER: Oh, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.