Talk to political wonks, and the one piece of President-elect Donald Trump's plans that generates wide, bipartisan curiosity, even support is his bold ideas about renewing the nation's infrastructure - which means roads, airports, bridges, schools, even ultra fast broadband.
On his website, Trump proclaimed he wants to "[p]ursue an 'America's Infrastructure First' policy that supports investments in transportation, clean water, a modern and reliable electricity grid, telecommunications, security infrastructure and other pressing domestic infrastructure needs."
Trump added that he would "[i]mplement a bold, visionary plan for a cost-effective system of roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, railroads, ports and waterways, and pipelines in the proud tradition of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who championed the interstate highway system."
Fact: the nation's infrastructure, especially in the northeast and Rust Belt, is a crumbling patchwork of projects dating back 50 to 100 years. To pick just one metric: 34.5% of bridges in New Jersey are inadequate; many are unsafe. Rhode Island is worse - 56% of bridges are deficient. And bridges aren't in much worse shape than roads or airports or courthouses.
Fact: China, increasingly the U.S.'s chief rival, is deep into an infrastructure build-out that involves billions of dollars.
Trump has not put a firm number on his infrastructure plan - but $0.5 trillion over ten years gets tossed around. That kind of money excites both public works experts and some investors.
And maybe the biggest news is that, unlike some Trump proposals such as repealing the estate tax and deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, support for new infrastructure so far crosses party lines. "This is an area where President elect Trump can generate bipartisan support and get early successes in his term," said Henry Cisneros, now a partner in investment bank Siebert Cisneros Shank and formerly Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton Administration.
"The American public will get why this matters," Cisneros added. "They know we have let our infrastructure go too long."
He also said an infrastructure build - involving possibly thousands of construction projects - plays to Trump's strong suit. "He's a builder, he likes to build," said Cisneros.
As for the criticism that so far Trump has been light on actual details - such as where the money for infrastructure will come from - Steve Cordasco, founder of Cordasco Financial Network in Philadelphia, said "he's being smart about that." His point: specifying details prematurely might trigger a tidal wave of criticism and bickering that could drown the proposal. Get people excited about it, however, and the way to make it happen just might be found.
"We do think this will happen," said Josh Duitz, portfolio manager of Alpine Funds' Global Infrastructure Fund.
Pillsbury attorney Nick Sarad agreed: "There is a good possibility we will see things happening here." He cautioned that GOP deficit hawks in Congress will need mollifying. "This will be a difficult needle thread," he said. "[But] there is optimism about infrastructure. Companies are bullish on this."
As for the financing question, Al Maloof, managing member of GJB Consulting and a veteran of many public works projects in Florida, said that early meetings with Trump affiliated infrastructure experts has shown considerable enthusiasm for funding via public private partnerships -- and that might be a workaround to bring deficit hawks onboard because the private sector would be carrying at least some of the load.
Duitz, too, said he sees enthusiasm for public private partnership funding. "Infrastructure can produce nice, steady returns for investors," he said. He pointed to various toll roads, funded with private money in Texas and Virginia, that have won investor favor.
The bigger point: right now, lots of financing options are under consideration and very possibly there will be proposals that win favor in Congress.
And then who wins? Ted Brooks, Global Infrastructure Portfolio Manager at CenterSquare, offered early picks of what he said are likely winners in an era of Trump infrastructure renewal: "Any pipeline builder," said Brooks who indicated "there's a huge backlog waiting approval." Trump, at his end, has talked about streamlining federal approvals, thus Brooks's optimism.
"Construction and engineering firms have lagged in the recovery, as capital investment has lagged," Brooks said. "They will benefit from this."
Brooks added one more favorite: "The rails. We are likely to see more economic activity, more coal, crude oil by rail."
Other winners will emerge. With up to $0.5 trillion in play, many companies - from cement manufacturers to steel companies - may come out ahead in a construction program that could be at a scale not seen before in U.S. infrastructure. Cisneros added: "This could be the program that modernizes America. Infrastructure usually means one-off projects. This is on a scale that's attempting to give us the infrastructure we need for the future."