Roads and bridges, a straightforward matter, right?
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board:
If you hoped President Biden’s infrastructure spending might bring a smoother drive to an area near you, it’s worth reading the latest fine print. Before funds are disbursed, bureaucrats are attaching strings that make it far more difficult to build new highways.
The restrictions come from a memo last month from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The Transportation Department agency is fielding infrastructure project proposals from states and cities, and it has sway over regulatory approval. Deputy Administrator Stephanie Pollack advised staff on the types of projects they should give the red light.
According to the memo, proposals should be sent to the bottom of the pile if they “add new general purpose travel lanes serving single occupancy vehicles.” She means cars. That includes construction of new roads and highways, or expansions of existing ones. States and cities that need new capacity will take a back seat to those seeking upgrades.
This guidance is a bait-and-switch on Congressional Republicans who backed the infrastructure deal mainly because it would expand and improve surface transportation.
Ah, the delights of bipartisanship.
House Democrats led by Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio wanted similar limits on new building in the version of the bill they passed, but Senate Republicans kept those limits out of the final draft. Rep. DeFazio staged a public tantrum, but he had to accept it.
But one of the characteristics of the Biden administration is the way that the regulatory is used to bypass the legislative, and so . . .
Now highway skeptics in the Transportation Department are imposing restrictions like those that failed to pass Congress. Road construction will also be tied up by environmental reviews. Republicans tried to pre-empt the red tape by including the One Federal Decision framework in the infrastructure bill. The policy imposes a 90-day limit on approval for projects reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
But the FHWA is doubling down on other green restrictions. Its memo declares that any project requiring a new right of way is ineligible for a fast-tracked NEPA review. States planning to widen clogged highways using federal funds could face months or years of scrutiny. We warned that the bill’s permitting reforms were insufficient, and here we are.
Shovel-ready projects? Not so much.
The restrictions will likely fall hardest on red states. Fast-growing areas in the Sunbelt and Northwest need highway extensions to improve local commuting and commerce.
And, yes, that’s just another reminder that the aims of green new dealers (or those adjacent to them) are going to be very difficult (#understatement) to square with growing the economy.
Disdain for highways is common among progressive regulators, who see blocking road improvements as a virtue that will assist mass transit and climate-change goals. Upon her appointment as the interim highway administration leader, Ms. Pollack promised “an agency that supports people rather than a singular mode of transportation.”
The war against the car continues.
One extra kicker:
“[O]nly $110 billion out of $1.2 Trillion went to roads, bridges “and investments in other major transportation programs.”