There has been much talk in Washington about turning to infrastructure as the next major policy focus for both Congress and the White House. Investing in our infrastructure is an issue that enjoys broad support on both sides of the aisle as a way to create jobs, stimulate the economy and complete much needed updates for our crumbling roads and bridges.
During last week’s State of the Union Address, President Trump featured infrastructure front and center and outlined a plan for investment,
“Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need. Every Federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with State and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment — to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.”
But reforming our regulatory system and permitting process should be a vital component of any upcoming infrastructure package. The Bipartisan Policy Center recently spoke to the importance of adopting new, more transparent permitting initiatives and the need to reduce the time spent on these projects over their lifespan.
“The federal government’s Permitting Dashboard tracks about 60 different permits and reviews that infrastructure projects may require from at least a dozen federal agencies to move forward with construction. Unnecessary delays in getting those approvals cost money for both the public and private sectors. For example, direct costs can go up if the costs of materials, supplies, or labor rise during a delay. There is also a public cost to delaying needed infrastructure improvements—for example, older facilities generate more emissions and often require more frequent and costly repairs.”
Republicans and Democrats understand that America’s infrastructure is in dire need of repair. According to a report released this week by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, 54,259 of the 612,677 bridges in the U.S. are “structurally deficient.” Similarly, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives Americas infrastructure a close to failing grade of D+. This is a critical safety issue for the millions of Americans who commute to work and drive their kids to school on a daily basis.
But simply throwing more money at infrastructure won’t solve the problem by itself. As President Obama famously said, “there are no such things as shovel ready infrastructure projects.” Years of federal bureaucratic buildup has created a morass of permitting requirements that result in many projects waiting anywhere from 6 – 10 years to begin construction. Most of these delays are due to the complex web of federal, state, and local permits that expensive compliance lawyers must wade through since there is no single entity in charge of setting requirements and approving projects.
The White House also seems to understand that regulatory reform must be a part of any truly meaningfully infrastructure package, as President Trump stated in his State of the Union speech:
“America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just 1 year — is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?… Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process — getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one.”
We cannot begin to rebuild the thousands of crumbling roads, bridges, and highways littering the nation if it takes over ten years just to get the correct permits. Prior to the address, the Administration released a draft of its infrastructure plan that expanded the use of a fast tracking system for permits devised by the Obama administration. Taken together with the State of the Union, the White House seems serious about fixing this broken system.
The federal government must follow through on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to conduct meaningful regulatory reform, or we will continue to see shovel ready infrastructure projects stagnate as they wade through a seemingly never-ending sea of bureaucratic red tape.