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EDITORIAL: Trump should fulfill infrastructure promise.

By: The Gazette editorial board
May 15, 2018 Updated: May 15, 2018 at 9:25 am
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Traffic passes by the campus of the Veterans Administration hospital under construction Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Aurora, Colo. On Thursday, June 8, the United States Justice Department announced that it has declined to prosecute Veterans Affairs Department executives after lawmakers accused two of them of misleading Congress about massive cost overruns at the Aurora, Colo., site. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Gazette's editorial board complained directly to Donald Trump about the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora. It was three years past the anticipated completion date, and $1.2 billion over budget.

That July meeting was nearly two years ago.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, wants Trump to know the hospital remains incomplete. He sent a letter, and Trump should take it to heart.

Trump used our editorial board discussion for an ensuing stump speech at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He railed against the federal government's incompetence in building and repairing infrastructure. He explained our country's airports and roads are a joke, compared with those in other developed countries.

"I had a meeting with your great newspaper," he said of The Gazette. "And I really like the editorial board of that newspaper, OK. You know who I'm talking about. These are great people. They were telling me there is a Veterans Administration hospital that had a $1.2 billion cost overrun in this area. Think of that. I'm building a hotel in Washington, and I'm under budget and ahead of schedule by one year. Think of it. And it's peanuts compared to $1.2 billion. What is this? That's just the cost overrun. And this is happening all over the country, when you build a road, when you build an airport...

"But they're telling me about a hospital in the area. You all know what I'm talking about. $1.2 billion. I didn't hear the original part about the cost overrun. I said, wow that's a lot of money for a hospital. How big is it? They said 'no, no, no. That's not the cost. That's just the cost overrun!' There's 1.2 billion. If built by one of the people I know, some New York killer builder, it would have been up two years ago. It would have been up a year after it started... The thing would have been thrown up so fast, and it would have been better."

Coffman's letter applauds Trump for firing VA Secretary David Sulkin, explaining the agency remains laden with "bureaucratic incompetence."

"...In Aurora, Colorado we have the dubious distinction of witnessing the greatest construction management failure in the history of the VA. Construction of our new VA hospital is five years behind schedule and will ultimately cost triple the original estimate to complete... Sadly, the massive failure of the VA's construction management team in Aurora was not exceptional. The VA's inability to complete major hospital construction projects on time and on budget was fully identified as early as April of 2013... If the culture of the VA was truly focused on competently serving our veterans, the VA Secretary in 2013, at the very latest, should have addressed the ongoing incompetence in the VA's Office of Construction Management."

Coffman pleads with the president to "select a secretary who will ensure the VA delivers for our veterans."

The VA's corruption and incompetence underserves nearly 100,000 veterans who live throughout metropolitan Colorado Springs, and millions throughout the country.

In addition to fixing the VA, Trump should aggressively address the road, bridge and airport crisis he described in Colorado while bemoaning the hospital boondoggle.

Our March 17 editorial outlines an outside-the-Beltway plan to raise more than $1 trillion for infrastructure, without raising taxes.

The plan involves selling into the private sector, at market value, a variety of federal loan/lease assets to stop the escalating human and financial cost of deteriorating highways, bridges and airports. Federal agencies could distribute proceeds in block grants, matching state funds to build and improve highways, bridges, airports, and more.

Trump told Coloradans how American builders outperform government agencies. They would build faster and better for less — for the benefit of veterans and everyone else. Please, put shovels in the ground and make it so.

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