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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

America’s roads, bridges, tunnels, and transit face a funding gap of more than $1 trillion in the next few years. One in five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition and congestion costs the U.S. economy over $300 billion annually. Continued underinvestment will lead to longer trips to work or school, more costly maintenance expenses, and unsafe road conditions.

Congress absolutely can and should consider an infrastructure legislative package. It will create good-paying jobs at a time when our economy is struggling, while also tackling the major funding gap and project backlog of our current infrastructure needs. Investing in infrastructure isn’t just a matter of funding and additional appropriations, but also about the policies and regulations that govern infrastructure projects.


Currently, a complex highway project takes an average of seven years just to clear the federal government’s cumbersome review process needed for a project to advance. When one federal agency can take an average of 3.7 to 5 years to complete an environmental review, it’s no wonder that some approvals for critical projects have dragged on for decades. These project delays cost $3.7 trillion in foregone economic gains in employment, efficiency, and more.

That’s why I introduced the One Federal Decision Act last year, which recognizes that federal reviews of major infrastructure projects should be done in a more efficient, reasonable, and timely fashion. The One Federal Decision Act aims to set a government-wide goal of limiting environmental reviews and decision-making to two years for major infrastructure projects, including bridges, highways, airports, railroads, pipelines, and energy production systems.

The myth is that if we cut this jumble of red tape that can discourage or kill major critical infrastructure projects, we will cause harm to our environment. In reality, countries such as Canada, Germany, and Australia complete their environmental reviews in two years and still rank higher than the United States on Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index.

This bill and others like it are based on the principle that streamlining project delivery and eliminating needless and wasteful bureaucracy will not only improve our infrastructure in a more timely, commonsense manner, it will also save money and provide the same practical impact as increasing funding by reducing the project timeline.

The legislation that authorizes the funding of infrastructure projects is just as important as the policies and regulations that govern those same projects. As Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit at the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I), it is my hope that members of the Committee and Congress at large embrace a return to a normal, bipartisan surface reauthorization process.

Surface transportation legislation is one of the most critical infrastructure bills Congress enacts because it funds major projects and helps meet our Nation’s infrastructure needs. What we must avoid is another costly, short-term extension of surface reauthorization, which doesn’t provide the clarity and certainty a long-term reauthorization provides to our states and local communities. We must also avoid tying reauthorization to other, extraneous policy issues.

Surface transportation legislation should be about making sustainable, long-term transportation investments and nothing more. That’s exactly what T&I Republicans proposed in the STARTER Act last year, which would have reauthorized surface transportation projects for a five-year period, among other policy changes aimed at improving infrastructure.

I’m encouraged by the bipartisan calls for new investments in infrastructure, but time will tell if the President and Democratic lawmakers who control Congress will use these legislative talks as an opportunity to consider investments in traditional infrastructure that are long overdue for maintenance, like highways and bridges, or if they will use it to push an unrelated, partisan agenda like the Green New Deal. This is a major issue Congress should tackle as soon as possible, and we can’t lose sight of the backlog of projects that deserve our attention and new investments that need to be made. Let’s get to work.

• U.S. Representative Rodney Davis, Illinois Republican, serves as the Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, the largest subcommittee in Congress. In addition to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he serves on the House Agriculture Committee and as Ranking Member of the House Administration Committee. He represents 14 urban and rural counties of Central and Southwestern Illinois comprising the 13th district.


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