Cutting red tape, increasing private investment, and designating $40 billion for urgent repairs are the three cornerstones of President Obama's new plan for U.S. infrastructure.
Fleshing out the "Fix it First" plan announced Feb. 12 in the State of the Union Address, the White House issued a Fact Sheet on Wednesday (Feb. 20) with more details of the proposal.
"Investing in infrastructure not only makes our roads, bridges, and ports safer and allows our businesses and workers to be as competitive as they need to be in the global economy; it also creates thousands of good American jobs that cannot be outsourced," according to "The President’s Plan to Make America a Magnet for Jobs by Investing in Infrastructure."
'There's More to Do'
The document urges making repairs and upgrades to roads, bridges and public transportation systems a higher priority than new projects. Shoring up current infrastructure is less expensive than new building, improves safety in communities that rely on those systems, and will create jobs sooner, the White House says.
President Obama announced the infrastructure initiative in his State of the Union address Feb. 12.
"America has begun the hard work of rebuilding our infrastructure," the Fact Sheet says. "But there’s more to do, and that’s why the President’s plan ensures that the money we invest in infrastructure is spent wisely by adopting a 'fix it first' policy."
The plan has three components.
'Fix it First' Policy
The plan designates $50 billion for "frontloaded transportation infrastructure," including $40 billion to help clear the nationwide backlog of deferred maintenance on highways, bridges, airports and transit systems
The plan "could bring almost 80 percent" of the nation's 70,000 structurally deficient bridges up to date, "getting Americans home faster and making the flow of commerce speedier," the White House said.
The White House says a "Fix it First" policy could bring most of structurally deficient U.S. bridges up to date. Two Oklahoma bridges were replaced in 2009.
'Rebuild America Partnership'
The plan aims to tap private-sector capital in a new program called the Rebuild America Partnership. The Partnership wraps in new and existing initiatives, including:
Creating a National Infrastructure Bank. Obama called again for a bipartisan National Infrastructure Bank that will have the ability to leverage private and public capital to support infrastructure projects of national and regional significance. The bank would operate as an "independent, wholly owned government entity," the White House said.
Enacting America Fast Forward Bonds. This program would be a broadened version of the Recovery Act's “Build America Bonds” (BABs), which the White House says helped to support more than $181 billion for new public infrastructure. "AFF bonds would attract new sources of capital for infrastructure investment—including from public pension funds and foreign investors that do not receive a tax benefit from traditional tax-exempt debt," planners said.
Implement the newly expanded TIFIA program. The TIFIA program provides direct loans, loan guarantees, and lines of credit to regionally or nationally significant transportation projects. The program received an eight-fold increase in funding in the recent surface transportation reauthorization.
Cutting Red Tape
A recent review of the federal infrastructure permitting system showed that the government could cut several months to several years off the review process for highway, bridge, railway, port, waterway, pipeline and renewable energy projects, officials said.
A modernizing and streamlining initiative "will achieve time savings of 50 percent in the federal permitting and review process, while ensuring projects create better outcomes for communities and the environment," the White House said.
The permitting and review overhaul will include use of integrated planning, landscape and watershed-level mitigation, information technology, and publication of public timelines "to improve transparency and predictability," officials said.
'Back on the Job'
Despite progress over the last four years, too many construction workers remain out of work and too many of our nation’s infrastructure needs remain unmet," the White House said. "The President’s plan would help put workers back on the job in the near term, while also building the infrastructure our businesses and workers need to succeed in the global economy."
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) called the plan "a short-term proposal for long-term challenges" but cheered the goal to cut red tape.
The plan drew mixed reviews.
The trade publication Better Roads put the word plan in quotation marks, saying: "There’s not a whole lot new here, except the packaging, so now the Obama transportation plan is distilled into a single document.
"Another indication perhaps that the president has transportation infrastructure high on his second term agenda. Maybe it’s an early reauthorization shot, and attempt to take the sightly higher ground early on in the fight."
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster said in a statement that he "welcome[d] the President's interest in improving our infrastructure. However, the President’s plan appears to be only a short-term proposal for long-term challenges."
Shuster did praise the effort to speed up projects.
"I’m encouraged by the President’s comments about the need to reduce red tape and streamline project delivery, including working to implement provisions from MAP-21 that can cut the time to build a highway project in half," he said.
"We need to find additional opportunities to move projects ahead faster in all modes of transportation to save time and money. It can take the Army Corps of Engineers 17 years to complete a major port terminal project that takes the private sector only seven years.
"I hope the President will be willing to work with Congress on this and other long-term solutions to our substantial infrastructure needs.”