Thursday, March 27, 2014

Trading Potholes for Progress

Trading Potholes for Progress
By Congressman Randy Forbes
March 26, 2014

As the snow thaws to warmer months, new potholes and signs of road deterioration are certain to appear on our daily commutes. Although this is the reality of a harsh winter, it also serves as a reminder of how quickly our transportation and infrastructure can wither. In a boiling frog-like scenario, without the budgets or attention necessary, the conditions of our roads and bridges can deteriorate mostly unnoticed until the problem becomes more than annoyance – it becomes a safety hazard and adds costly wear and tear to vehicles. Then, even if the funds exist to make repairs, plans get caught up in a process of red tape and burdensome regulations. While waiting for project approval, infrastructure issues can worsen to the point that they may be deadly.

Such was the case with the 2007 Minnesota I-35W bridge collapse. The bridge had been rated "structurally deficient." While it sat on a wait-list of sorts for reconstruction that could have taken years to complete, the bridge buckled under the weight of normal rush hour traffic. The collapse into the Mississippi River killed 13 and injured 145 others. 

In a country as forward thinking and innovative as ours, it is unfathomable that our infrastructure would come to a point where it is not only aging, but is actually unsafe. However, simply throwing taxpayer dollars into transportation projects will not solve the problem. This is because projects are being choked by bureaucratic red tape. Big transportation budgets are wasteful if the projects cannot come to completion in a timely manner. It's not just about dollars – it's about efficiency.

It's time we reduce red tape and present a bold, decisive strategy that will cut costs, put Americans back to work, and accelerate necessary construction and improvements to our nation's roads and bridges.

In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama prioritized "slash[ing] bureaucracy and streamlin[ing] the permitting process." However, rather than investing money in stimulus-style projects, I believe we can take a different approach to meet the same goal.

This month, I introduced the 414 Plan Act of 2014 (H.R. 4153) to expedite the construction of roads and bridges in order to create jobs and provide needed improvements to our nation's aging infrastructure. The legislation draws inspiration from the expedited rebuilding of the Minnesota Bridge.

You see, in an era of notoriously long transportation project timelines, it took only 414 days from the time it fell to completely reconstruct the Minnesota I-35W replacement bridge. How? Reconstruction was made a top national priority and the project was not hindered by burdensome regulations and red tape that often slow down transportation projects. As a result, the bridge reconstruction project came to completion ahead of schedule. 

In a similar model, the 414 Plan suspends for five years all federal regulations that do not pertain to the safety or durability of highway facilities, or of public and workplace safety. The legislation gets rid of costly, outdated federal requirements, while continuing to give states and localities flexibility in utilizing federal funding for road and bridge projects.  It also expresses the sense of Congress on the need for greater interagency cooperation among project stakeholders to further expedite surface transportation projects.

We cannot allow our federal permitting process to hamstring us to the point of safety risk. It's time that something be done, and this bold approach will help get us there. Let's trade potholes for progress.

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