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ICYMI: WSJ Editorial Calls Out Biden’s “Highway Funding Bait-and-Switch”

Washington, D.C., February 4, 2022 | Justin Harclerode (202) 225-9446 | comments
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A Wall Street Journal editorial recently highlighted concerns about the Biden administration’s attempts to restrict states’ flexibility to build new roads and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) plan to bypass streamlining reforms in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) as Congress intended.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) said, “With more than a trillion dollars included in the infrastructure law, Americans expect new roads and real infrastructure needs to be addressed – not a vehicle for the administration’s woke agenda.  This agenda – which doesn’t prioritize real infrastructure, adds more and more layers of red tape and regulation, and drives up record inflation – will continue to steadily chip away the purchasing power of the funds that were approved.”

According to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial, “Highway Funding Bait-and-Switch”:

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)…. 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.’ [emphasis added]... 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.…

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. 

The editorial demonstrates how the administration is subverting infrastructure improvements that don’t fit its agenda by using agency guidance as roadblocks and by ignoring congressional intent, as in the case of the One Federal Decision streamlining provisions in IIJA.

To help ensure the IIJA is implemented as Congress intended, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) recently requested a briefing for all Committee Members by White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu.

In this request, Graves cited similar concerns that the FHWA guidance referenced in the editorial prioritizes certain types of investment over others, which may not respect funding recipients’ decisions on how to best use their federal transportation funding. Read Graves’ request letter here.

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