Slashing Permit Wait Time Key to Fixing Infrastructure: Trump

By Shaun Courtney

President Donald Trump called for major changes to the infrastructure approval process, vowing to ease the “excruciating wait time” for federally funded projects.

Speaking June 9 at the Transportation Department, the president called on federal agencies to streamline review processes and said his administration will penalize agencies that “consistently delay” projects by missing deadlines. Trump announced the creation of a council to help infrastructure project managers navigate the bureaucracy, in part by creating an online dashboard for project tracking.

“The excruciating wait time for permitting has inflicted enormous financial pain on cities and states—and has blocked many important projects from ever getting off the ground,” Trump said. “To all our state and local leaders here today, I want you to know that help, after many, many decades, is finally on the way.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as she introduced Trump at the DOT, said her agency issued a notice in the Federal Register seeking suggestions to help her agency improve permitting.

Meets With Officials

Prior to his speech, Trump met with about a dozen heads of state transportation departments and U.S. DOT leaders for a discussion on how the federal government can shift responsibility for review processes to the states. He told the group he hoped to cut permitting time from what he described as more than 10 years to two years, maybe even one year, according to a pool report of the conversation.

Though the administration cited permitting processes that take a decade or longer, a Federal Highway Administration official previously told Bloomberg BNA that the National Environmental Policy Act process at the agency takes on average three-and-a-half years.

An Inspector General report this year found that streamlining requirements in the 2015 FAST Act have actually slowed down other efficiency efforts required under a 2012 transportation authorization.

Trump said his proposal will reduce redundancies and get the federal government out of the way to allow states and cities to move ahead with long-awaited projects.

“Washington has spent decades building a dense thicket of rules, regulations and red tape,” Trump said.

“This massive permit reform—and that’s what it is, a permit reform—doesn’t sound glamorous,” Trump said. “But it’s so important.”

Infrastructure Week

The president’s address at DOT came at the end of what the White House called infrastructure week.

It began June 5 with an event in the White House announcing a proposal to privatize air traffic control. The proposal would remove the air traffic control function from the Federal Aviation Administration and put it under the control of a non-governmental entity. Trump’s plan closely replicates 2016 legislation by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

Chao spent June 7 and June 8 defending the proposal before a skeptical Senate committee and a slightly more welcoming House committee, led by Shuster.

The permitting-efficiency proposal Trump unveiled June 9 closely mirrors a proposal laid out in an April letter from the Business Roundtable, calling on the administration to expedite permitting of infrastructure projects.

The president’s proposed budget calls for $200 billion in direct federal investments in infrastructure over 10 years, which the administration hopes will leverage an additional $800 billion in state, local and private money for a total of $1 trillion in infrastructure spending.

The administration hasn’t yet released a detailed infrastructure plan, though the White House issued a principles document that accompanied the budget proposal. Chao has repeatedly said a full legislative proposal on infrastructure spending won’t be ready until the third quarter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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