Administration Accelerates Infrastructure Projects

But a top Republican says the efforts are "a drop in the bucket" compared to the task at hand.
by , | October 12, 2011
 

The White House this week released a list of 14 infrastructure projects it intends to fast-track through the regulatory process in an effort to more quickly create jobs. But it didn't take long for Republicans to burst Obama's bubble.

John Mica -- chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and a key voice in setting transportation policy -- quickly blasted the effort as too little, too late.

"We must expedite the review process for all projects, not just a handful," Mica said in a statement. "When the entire infrastructure project process is mired in red tape, the administration’s plan is a drop in the bucket compared to what must be done."

The administration's proposal calls for better coordination between federal agencies to help speed up the regulatory process. Mica, however, says that's not true streamlining, and he expects to take a larger cut out of red tape in his committee's surface transportation authorization currently being crafted.
 
Sue Hann, city manager of Palm Bay, Fla. and a leader with the American Public Works Association, says the administration's announcement is a step in the right direction. And the controversy may actually be a good thing, since it means both the president and members of Congress are paying attention to problems with the existing regulatory process.
 
Hann says the review process for federal environmental regulations is particularly onerous for state and local governments pursuing infrastructure projects, causing costly delays. While she doesn't oppose the regulations themselves, she does criticize the length of time it takes for them to be administered. "We're not trying to avoid the regulation," Hann says. "We want to be in compliance. If there's something we need to know to get there, tell us."
 
But others viewed the announcement with more skepticism. Joshua Schank, who leads the Eno Transportation Foundation, said the administration should have fast-tracked projects that would have had greatest overall impact on the economy.
 
By prioritizing the projects that simply created the most jobs, Schank says, "it makes it seem more political than really trying to make a difference economically."
 
The projects included in the administration's memo include a replacement of New York's Tappan Zee Bridge, extensions of the light rail in Los Angeles, and construction of a mixed-use development in Washington, D.C. that  has more than 400 housing units.
 
In announcing the accelerations, administration officials said they're committed to reforming the federal permitting and environmental review process, and it will use what it learns from accelerating these 14 projects to promote more efficiency in the future.
 
Many of the stakeholder groups -- including both the road building community and state transportation officials -- have pushed for a renewed effort to ease regulatory burdens in the upcoming surface transportation legislation as a way to help them create jobs and build projects more quickly. That subject will likely be a centerpiece of the debate over the bill in the coming months.
 
 

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