The Federal Highway Administration estimates that every dollar spent on bridge and road improvements result in a benefit of $5.20 from reduced vehicle and system operating costs and reduced emissions, McKenna said. Steven Demetriou, a member of the Business Roundtable Infrastructure Committee, said a study by his committee found a $1 investment can return $3.70 in economic growth over 20 years and increase the real GDP by nearly $6 trillion over the next two decades.
McKenna, also the vice president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, called for streamlining the permitting process to expedite the delivery of projects. Fellow witnesses Demetriou and Michael Replogle, deputy commissioner for policy for the New York City Department of Transportation, shared the same sentiment.
“While federal support for our investments is essential, federally funded transportation projects do often take longer to complete due to requirements administered by multiple agencies under dozens of statutes,” Replogle said. “But expedited delivery need not and should not undermine important environmental safeguards and protections.”
Ranking member Thomas Carper, D-Del., said more than 95 percent of highway projects are categorically excluded from review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Furthermore, three highway bills passed since 2005 have included more than 50 environmental streamlining provisions, he said.
“While I will consider all ideas fairly ... I just want to be clear I won’t support legislation that weakens environmental protection in the name of accelerating transportation project delivery,” Carper said in his opening statement.
He also said the authorization of any federal agency to apply a categorical exclusion that has been adopted by another agency, which would make categorical exclusion interchangeable, would also streamline the process.
“We do not wish to impact the environment negatively, but we do think that on a process standpoint, even in simple projects where we have categorical exclusions, that coordination can still be improved,” McKenna said. “If we can shave on average three months off of 95 percent of the projects that we do, that’s a substantial return.”
Replogle recommended enhancing local authority by increased federal funding directly to cities and developing concurrent permit processing guidelines. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also voiced support of concurrent review process during a speech to AASHTO last week.
The Business Roundtable supports the administration’s one federal decision policy, Demetriou said, which would encourage the codification of a two-year deadline to reach a decision on all proposed infrastructure projects.
“I think it’s a global competitive situation for the United States because most of us are global companies and we’re trying to figure out where to put our assets. Everything is set up to do it here in the United States except for the infrastructure equation that needs to get solved,” Demetriou said.