Our Ideas

Infrastructure: A Tangle of Red Tape Solutions


After President Trump and congressional Democrats agreed in principle to a $2 trillion infrastructure package, much discussion has focused on where Congress could potentially find the money.

But few have discussed an equally pressing question:

Even if infrastructure funds were available, could any of it actually be built in the near-term?

As President Obama famously remarked when he realized how long it took to start building infrastructure projects authorized by the 2009 Recovery Act: “There’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” in America.

Today, The New Center releases “Infrastructure: A Tangle of Red Tape,” which examines the key causes of delayed and stalled infrastructure projects and offers solutions to make more projects truly “shovel-ready.” A future paper on identifying sources of infrastructure funding will soon follow.

As countries in Europe and elsewhere have shown, protections for the environment, labor, and the interests of local communities are not mutually exclusive. The New Center suggests several changes that could allow the U.S. to accomplish both, including:

  1. Introducing a program that incentivizes states and localities to streamline and improve their procurement processes and to take such procedural steps that will speed up the delivery of vital infrastructure projects.
  2. Creating a single federal entity with the authority to coordinate disparate infrastructure review processes and to resolve disputes among agencies and various levels of government in a timely fashion.
  3. Reintroducing bipartisan legislation that died in the last Congress to improve on current permitting legislation and ensure that review processes for infrastructure projects are as quick and efficient as possible.
  4. Giving the states more flexibility to spend federal infrastructure funding on the projects that they deem to be most important.
  5. Investing in the infrastructure projects that are most essential to public safety and economic competitiveness rather than those that serve political imperatives.
  6. Expanding the Department of Transportation’s Permitting Dashboard, an online resource that tracks the status of some of the largest infrastructure projects, to all projects under environmental review to provide greater accountability and transparency to the public.

The full “Infrastructure: A Tangle of Red Tape” paper is available for download here.