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Remarks by DJ Gribbin at the AASHTO Washington Briefing

Remarks by DJ Gribbin at the AASHTO Washington Briefing

As prepared for delivery by DJ Gribbin at the AASHTO Washington Briefing
March 1, 2018.

Thank you, Bud, for that nice introduction.  And thank you, AASHTO, for the invitation to participate today.  It’s great to see so many familiar faces in the room.  Since my time as Chief Counsel at FHWA, I have appreciated the value AASHTO brings to any conversation on infrastructure.

Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge John Schroer (Tennessee DOT Commissioner and this year’s AASHTO President) and Chris Lawson (Chair of the Road Gang and FHWA Division Administrator for D.C.).

[Allison, Alex, …]

As AASHTO, you form the crucial link between State DOTs and the Federal Government, and it’s an opportune time for you be gathering in Washington.  As you know, the Administration has recently released its legislative plan for infrastructure, and Congress has begun considering in earnest the potential components of an infrastructure bill.

We kicked off 2018 with a renewed national focus on infrastructure, and we are building momentum for a truly historic investment.

While the details of a legislative plan undoubtedly will be debated at length over the coming weeks and months, we can all agree that we need to find a solution that will provide safe, strong, and reliable infrastructure for the American people.  No one knows this better than all of you who have a front-line view of the transportation infrastructure needs throughout the country.

The Secretary talked about our proposal yesterday and I would be remiss in not thanking her and her Department for their leadership on this issue.  USDOT and the 11 other Cabinet members were involved in developing the President’s legislative outline.  It was a strong, collaborative effort that also incorporated key input from State and local leaders.

In developing the plan, Administration officials had hundreds of conversations with State and local officials in 2017 to gather important perspectives.  On February 12, 8 Governors of both parties participated in the President’s infrastructure rollout event. This past Monday, the White House team hosted two breakout sessions with nearly 20 of the nation’s Governors who appreciated our focus on infrastructure and our approach to empowering State and local leaders.  In addition to those meetings, senior Administration officials have also connected with most Governors one-on-one in the last 3 weeks to provide an overview our infrastructure plan. In short, we recognize the importance of State leaders, and we look forward to continued engagement with them.

Before I describe our plan, let me address an issue we have been asked often.  Yes, we need a long-term solution for the Highway Trust Fund.  The President has been clear that he supports working with Congress on finding a solution that is more than just a short-term, kick-the-can-down-the-road solution.

In today’s conversation, however, I will focus on what we are proposing in addition to the Highway Trust Fund.

While the Trust Fund is a remarkable tool, it does not solve our nation’s infrastructure challenges with water, ports, airports, and the wide variety of asset classes not Trust Fund eligible.

You’re familiar with the top-line details of our plan.  Some of our priorities include:

  • Stimulating $1.5 trillion in new investment with $200 billion in Federal seed money;
  • Shortening the project approval process to 2 years;
  • Addressing unmet infrastructure needs in rural America;
  • Expanding funding and eligibility for successful credit programs like TIFIA with a proven track record of creating a significant multiplier of Federal dollars;
  • Encouraging infrastructure innovation through transformative projects; and
  • Training the American workforce (PELL, licensing requirements, apprenticeships).

With the time I have with you today, I’d like to walk through a couple of these priorities in more detail and talk about some of the facts and the fictions associated with our plan.

Stimulating at least $1.5 trillion investement

So in addition to the Trust Fund, we want to stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in new investment on infrastructure.  This approach is based on stretching the use and benefit of taxpayer dollars and returning decision-making to States and locals.

When critics say we have put forward a plan for the $200 billion in new Federal funding that would intentionally depart from the historic approach to funding infrastructure, there is truth in that statement.

  • History has shown that when taxpayer dollars are sent to Washington, DC, they are often inefficiently invested.
  • We want to get away from that approach—that is why the President’s plan will empower States and locals to make decisions, prioritize projects, and determine their own needs, without having Washington attach countless Federal strings.

However, there are a number of myths about our plan I’d like to dispel:

  • We will not get to $1 trillion.  [Describe slide dispelling myth that proposal won’t reach $1.0-$1.5 trillion in investment].
  • We still support a strong Federal Government role in funding infrastructure.  But it is important to note —
  • Every dollar invested in infrastructure comes out of the pockets of taxpayers—whether it’s Federal, local, or State spending.  Taxpayers understand this and want their dollars to stay in their communities and be invested in infrastructure that will directly benefit them.
  • Many States and localities are already moving in the direction the Administration is proposing.  Under our plan, the Federal Government will be a helpful funding partner in those efforts.
  • We support traditional funding levels.  We are not turning the tables on the traditional balance between Federal, State and local investment in infrastructure or shrinking Federal support.  Some have stated that we are converting 80/20 to 20/80.  There is no 80/20.
  • Just considering two major infrastructure sectors—highways and water, for example—the Federal Government contributes only about 28 percent of the total spending for highways and about 4 percent of the total spending for water.
  • So it is inaccurate to suggest that the Administration is proposing to wholly flip the current approach and saddle communities with investment burdens the Federal Government previously covered.
  • Federal support under our plan would increase in some sectors and remain stable in others.
  • We are not using this investment to replace existing programs, and I need you to hear me on this—the existing formula programs with which you are long familiar stay in place.
  • However, at a time when additional Federal dollars are scarce and there are so many competing priorities, we need to think creatively about stretching the use and benefit of each taxpayer dollar.
  • That’s why we want to offer the additional Federal dollars to States and locals in a way that maximizes overall infrastructure investment and provides a common-sense approach for taxpayers.
  • Some have inaccurately criticized the President for seeking to place tolls on everything.
  • First, all our plan does is provide States flexibility to determine whether tolls are an appropriate mechanism for addressing their surface transportation infrastructure investment needs.
  • Second, I find it ironic that the major critics of tolls come from a state and a city that are considering tolled options as we sit here today.
  • The President has been consistent is saying all options are on the table.
  • Some have stated that we are forcing unaffordable costs on rural America.
  • In fact, our proposal calls for providing States with block grants for rural areas, allowing Governors full flexibility to address infrastructure needs as they know best, whether it be for roads, bridges, power, water, flood control, or broadband.
  • We also provide funds to tribes and territories, and propose to address the infrastructure needs for our Federal public lands.
  • I could go on and on about the myths associated with the funding portion of our proposal, but let me move on to something I know many of you are especially interested in, which is our plan to repair and rebuild our badly broken project approval process.
Shortening the project approval process to 2 years

The permitting process takes too long, is redundant, increases costs, and creates uncertainty.

We can’t apply a second-rate process if we want to build the world’s best infrastructure.

We are approaching this problem through legislative, regulatory, policy and cultural changes.

We started with the President’s Executive Order he issued in August 2017 and that is bolstered by our legislative plan.

How do we get there?  We are proposing:

  • Establishing a “One Agency, One Decision” environmental review structure—21 months for NEPA, 3 months for permits.
  • Eliminating redundant and unnecessary reviews, concurrences and approvals.
  • Giving agencies firm deadlines to complete their reviews and make decisions and holding them accountable for meeting deadlines and keeping on schedule.
  • Ensuring agencies use the same analyses to make a decision and that one environmental document is sufficient for all Federal agencies.
  • Allowing for projects with significant environmental benefits and mitigation commitments to be expedited through the process.
  • Delegating more responsibility to State and local governments.
  • This is an achievable goal.
  • Our approach is modeled after other coordination efforts that have been a success—for example, the exemplary interagency coordination that was conducted on the Tappan Zee Bridge where the Record of Decision was issued in 11 months and all necessary permits were secured in 18 months. [REPEAT]
  • Other nations also have demonstrated the ability to permit well while permitting quickly, including Canada and Australia.
  • The President has been clear that environmental protections are important and should remain in place.  Our proposed changes are procedural and not substantive.
  • Examples include eliminating extra veto authority by EPA on 404 permits where the Corps is already reviewing, and allowing agreements reached under the National Historic Preservation Act to also satisfy DOT-specific laws regarding impacts of transportation projects on historic resources.
  • Projects that are bad for the environment will not move forward.  Good projects, however, will move forward at a much faster pace.

Let me close by saying thank you for the incredible work you do throughout the country related to infrastructure for our Nation’s many transportation modes.

You are in the business of infrastructure, and I hope you are excited about what the President’s proposal could do to rebuild our infrastructure, achieve economic growth, and improve quality of life for Americans.

The Administration stands ready to work with you and to work with Congress to provide the American people the upgraded infrastructure they deserve.

[I look forward to taking your questions.]

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