Obama to push reforms to infrastructure permits


President Obama will announce a new plan to accelerate and expand federal permitting in a bid to expedite major infrastructure projects during a speech at the Tappan Zee bridge outside New York City on Wednesday.

Under the new permitting guidelines, departments within the administration will be required to improve coordination and reduce the amount of time the government takes to resolve interagency disputes. The new rules will also ask federal agencies to undertake synchronized, simultaneous reviews of projects.

That means one environmental analysis could satisfy requirements for multiple agencies involved in project construction, rather than requiring contractors to redo work.

The administration will also expand the use of an online “dashboard” that serves as a central clearinghouse for the permitting process across the government. And the administration is setting up an “improvement center” dedicated to implementing the reforms within each federal agency.

“The new, government-wide plan will build on efforts the Administration has taken over the past three years to cut through red tape and expedite permitting decisions, while protecting our communities and the environment,” a White House official said.

The White House says, in total, the president will implement 15 specific reforms and nearly 100 near and long-term milestones designed to improve efficiency in the permitting process.

Officials say the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is being replaced in a $3.9 billion construction project aided by a $1.9 billion federal loan, is an ideal example of how the streamlined process can save time and money. 

“Federal agencies completed the permitting and review in 1.5 years for a process that might otherwise take 3-5 years,” a White House official said.

The president is also expected to push lawmakers to take action to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which is set to become insolvent by the end of this summer. 

Obama’s remarks will “highlight the consequences of inaction,” according to the White House official, with Obama to stress that a failure to replenish the fund would put at risk more than 112,000 ongoing highway and 5,600 transit projects as well as nearly 700,000 jobs.

The president’s proposal would address the shortfall and fund an additional $87 billion in repairs to bridges and transit systems. But Republicans have questioned how to pay for the president’s proposal.

Still, the White House believes Obama can rally both legislative and political momentum around the issue. In his remarks, Obama is expected to hit House Republicans on budget bills that would cut funding for highway repairs and mass transit expansion.

“A look at the House Republican approach to infrastructure shows the same top down approach to the economy that isn’t good for the middle class or jobs,” the official said.

Obama’s trip is the latest in a series of events this week focusing on infrastructure. On Tuesday, Vice President Biden travelled to St. Louis to highlight a $380 million renovation of the city’s iconic Gateway Arch. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx appeared at the daily White House press briefing on Monday to push for the administration’s transportation bill. 




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