What the President Got Right and Wrong About Infrastructure Repair


"America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just 1 year — is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?"

President Trump got right down to it in his State of the Union speech. He crystallized a problem that has been talked about in Washington with little action for a decade.

America’s roads, bridges, and rails are under-maintained and in some places, falling apart. We've been talking about this issue since President Obama suggested shovel-ready jobs as a means to combat the recession in 2008.

Unsurprisingly, it didn't add up.

Trump proposed Congress introduce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for new infrastructure investment, with the money leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, "where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment — to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit."

And, of course, "streamlining the permitting and approval process — getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one."

A massive federal spending bill may cover a great deal of the country, but is that the proper solution? I think not.

Michael Sargent, policy analyst for transportation and infrastructures at the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity, wrote a poignant critique of Trump’s ideas at The Daily Signal.

The president is correct that there is much that can be done to modernize the nation’s infrastructure. The solution, though, is not to further entrench the federal government’s pervasive influence over infrastructure. It is to fix the broken system that has resulted from extensive federal interference in regulating and controlling the funding of the nation’s infrastructure.

The president is right that the current regulatory delays that impede infrastructure projects are a “disgrace” and must be addressed. As the president referenced, projects can be delayed for years, needlessly increasing the completion time and total costs for most projects.

Sargent pointed to a specific example of why the feds should not be spearheading this initiative.

On average, it takes infrastructure projects of all types over five years to receive a final environmental impact statement—just one aspect of the federal review process. Some larger projects are stuck in this regulatory purgatory for decades. Minimizing this time to two years (or even one) would be a fundamental improvement over the current system.

What’s really holding up infrastructure improvements is not the fact that the government isn’t acting, but rather because of government action and intervention. Without the regulatory hurdles, infrastructure improvement could be carried out in a relatively quick time frame, and at a lower cost.

The Heritage Foundation estimates that certain strategic governmental reforms could generate $1.1 trillion in infrastructure investment funds without the need to increase federal spending.

The need for infrastructure upgrades is certainly present, but that does not mean that we need the federal government to spearhead the initiative. We would all be better off if they would largely step aside and let the states and free market take care of these issues.