By Kristen Hildreth
The latest report card for our nation’s infrastructure shows a significant need for improvement, so much so, that if graded like America’s youth, it would be a prime target for summer school.
The U.S. Society of Civil Engineer’s Infrastructure Report Card gave the nation a cumulative D+ for its infrastructure, with grades ranging from a B for rail to a D- for transit.
In addition to this report, over the last few months the nation’s infrastructure has been further thrust into the limelight with the president often touting a $1 trillion infrastructure package to replace the nation’s “crumbling infrastructure,” with “new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land.”
As such, Congress has begun to look at possible components of such an infrastructure package. While the topic of infrastructure is a shared bipartisan priority, consensus has not been reached on what a package will hold. As lawmakers consider what to include, they’re also looking to ensure the money is spent efficiently and effectively.
Infrastructure projects, from conception to completion, is not an overnight process. It often takes months, if not years, to complete the regulatory review processes. Many lawmakers and other officials have recently lamented this and highlighted their desire to simplify this system, while also ensuring the protection of the environment and public interests.
This discussion is not too different from ones in years past, however, and it’s important to note that similar efforts to streamline the regulatory review process were included in the last two surface transportation infrastructure reauthorization bills. There were 18 streamlining provisions in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), and 22 in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). Further, a report recently released by Department of Transportation’s inspector general found the streamlining provisions in the FAST Act actually delayed improvements expected from the provisions in in MAP-21.
This issue was front and center during a hearing May 3, Infrastructure Project Streamlining and Efficiency: Achieving Faster, Better, and Cheaper Results, held by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Committee Chairman Senator John Barasso (R-Wyo.) called for additional streamlining for state departments of transportation to focus more closely on delivering infrastructure projects, while also encouraging regulatory reform to ensure rural areas do not face the same requirements as urban centers. However, Ranking Member Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) , urged the implementation of current streamlining regulations before attempting to put more in place, for “adopting new measures at this juncture could well perform a dis-service to project delivery,” by further delaying implementation of provisions in previous infrastructure bills.
As expected, the viewpoints of witnesses also varied with some arguing that rather than streamlining the regulatory process, “the single most important action Congress can undertake to accelerate project delivery is to provide steady, long-term, and predictable funding.” Others noted that while “some progress” has been made in improving the regulatory process for some projects, more work remains.
As stakeholders gather to discuss the contents of an infrastructure package, it is likely they will continue to not only grapple with whether to include funding for infrastructure needs other than transportation such as rural broadband, the source of funding for such projects—public private partnerships (P3s), tax incentives, etc.—but also to what extent regulatory reform must be included.
For more information on the potential infrastructure package, or questions on streamlining provisions, please contact NCSL staff Kristen Hildreth or Ben Husch.
Kristen Hildreth is a policy associate with NCSL's National Resources and Infrastructure Committee.