President Donald Trump on Friday pledged new efforts to speed approvals for highways and other projects as part of his proposal for a $1 trillion boost to fix aging U.S. infrastructure.
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At the U.S. Transportation Department, Trump said his goal was to solve "one of the biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately-needed infrastructure – and that is the painfully slow, costly and time-consuming process for getting permits and approvals to build."
Trump said the White House is moving ahead with "massive permit reform" and setting up a new council to help project managers navigate bureaucratic hurdles. "This Council will also improve transparency by creating a new online dashboard allowing everyone to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process," Trump said.
He said the council will make sure that any federal agency that "consistently delays projects by missing deadlines will face tough, new penalties. We will hold the bureaucracy accountable."
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The White House is also creating a new office in the Council of Environmental Quality "to root out inefficiency, clarify lines of authority, and streamline federal, state and local procedures so that communities can modernize their aging infrastructure without fear of outdated federal rules getting in the way."
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the department is asking for public input on other changes it can make to speed approvals.
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Trump said it took "four years to build the Golden Gate Bridge and five years to build the Hoover Dam – but today it can take 10 years just to get the approvals and permits needed to build a major infrastructure project."
The Republican president, who was a New York-based real state developer before taking office, has repeatedly decried the process of winning approval for highway permitting. "It includes 16 different approvals involving 10 different federal agencies being governed by 26 different statutes," Trump said.
He spoke in front of two huge charts detailing the hurdles to build highways and held up a massive report that he said was needed before a Maryland highway was built.
"How can a country prosper under such restraints?" Trump asked. "Why should we continue to accept what is so clearly unacceptable? I was not elected to continue a failed system – I was elected to change it."
The administration proposes $200 billion in government funding over 10 years as part of a goal of getting $1 trillion in public and private infrastructure spending.
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer has said the budget cuts $206 billion in infrastructure spending across several Cabinet departments, however, including $96 billion in planned highway trust fund spending.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Steve Holland; Editing by Chris Sanders and Tom Brown)