Infrastructure Projects to Get Faster Approval: Transportation Secretary

By Brandon Ross

The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan will include reducing approval times for projects, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.

Faster approvals will encourage private-sector investment in the country’s infrastructure, including ports, Chao said April 5 in a keynote address to the American Association of Port Authorities spring conference in Washington. Government red tape is the larger problem, rather than a lack of funding, as the private sector has plenty of money, she said.

“Investors everywhere around the country tell me that there is ample capital waiting to invest in infrastructure projects,” Chao said. “So the problem is not money. It’s the delays caused by government permitting processes that hold up projects for years, even decades, making them risky investments because of the uncertainty and the length of time involved.”

The administration’s changes will be environmentally responsible, Chao added.

“An important part of the president’s infrastructure plan will include common-sense, regulatory, administrative, organizational and policy changes,” she said.

Corps of Engineers

Chao said one of the agencies the administration is looking at is the Corps of Engineers, which builds and approves harbor-maintenance projects and other water-related projects around the country.

“As we all know, the core operation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is essential to getting many infrastructure [projects] built,” Chao said. "[W]e’re thinking, ‘Is there a way to speed up the consultation and approval process with the Corps? Are there new technologies that can be deployed more rapidly and widely? Are we taking advantage of recent changes in the [Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act] that allow more flexibility in environmental reviews, permitting and project delivery without compromising the environment?

“We all want to protect the environment, we want to protect our skies, we want to protect our air, we want to protect our waters. But how do we do that but speed up these processes and maintain those goals?”

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