I traveled down to Kearney this week to break ground on the new I-35 and 19th Street Interchange. To say this project has been a long time coming would be a huge understatement.
My involvement started back in 2005 when I worked with the late Rep. Don Young, who was Chair of the Transportation Committee at the time, to secure $1.2 million for a project study in that year’s highway bill. Work is just now finally starting. That’s crazy, but it’s not uncommon.
Big infrastructure projects like this get held up often. On average it takes 7 years to get a major infrastructure project done. Many take much longer and it often takes years of behind-the-scenes work just to make it to the starting line.
That’s incredibly frustrating for communities, particularly ones like Kearney, where local citizens are funding a large majority of the project. All too often, these kinds of delays are due to the mess of red tape that folks have to navigate on every infrastructure project. DOT, EPA, and many other three-letter agencies all have their own rules that need to be followed—and none of them work together.
My experiences and frustrations with this project, and so many others like it, have greatly influenced my time in Congress. One of my top priorities has been fixing this mess of red tape that holds projects back. That was one of the goals of the STARTER Act 2.0, which I introduced early last year. It also included historic investments in our nation’s infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the bill we ultimately got stuck with did almost nothing to fix these problems. Instead, it threw hundreds of billions of dollars we don’t have at our infrastructure problem. And now, with the price of road materials increasing 20% last year, much of that investment is being eaten away by inflation.
It didn’t have to be this way. We could have made real reforms to the permitting process for infrastructure projects and made responsible, paid-for, investments in our infrastructure. I know that because we’ve done it before. During my time in Congress, I’ve voted for 3 truly bipartisan highway bills. I wish this could have been the fourth.
We have got to fix the broken project approval process and shore up the Highway Trust Fund. Until we do that, we’re just throwing good money after bad. That’s exactly what the President’s most recent infrastructure bill is doing.
Sam Graves is the Mo. Sixth District U.S. Representative.