National Governors Association looking for ways to improve infrastructure project permitting

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New York Construction Report staff writer

A panel discussion at the National Governors Association (NGA) annual general meeting in New Jersey this week focused on governors’ actions to accelerate infrastructure projects nationwide.

“We now have the funding to connect houses to high-speed internet, fix our roads and bridges and expand our ports and airports,” New Jersey Governor Murphy said on Twitter following the discussion.

Governors met with leaders in the private sector to discuss ways to streamline the permitting process, address legal challenges, and tackle procurement issues to deliver infrastructure projects more quickly to serve residents. They also shared perspectives on project barriers and opportunities to speed acceleration.

NGA infrastructure and permitting resources and a recording of the governors’ meeting is available at at https://www.nga.org/bestpractices/infrastructure/.

Infrastructure issues were also discussed at a virtual infrastructure project permitting workshop hosted by the NGA last month. The session brought together infrastructure coordinators, advisors on broadband, transportation, energy, and environment, and agency planning directors from 38 states and territories as well as industry partners and nonprofits. The session was an opportunity to share challenges and best practices to improve permitting and project delivery outcomes, with a focus on the role of Governors and agency teams on state-level permitting processes.

Currently, major infrastructure projects in the United States must clear a permitting gauntlet that can take 7 to 10 years or more before ground can be broken. The process, which involves multiple state and federal agencies, can be complex to track and even harder to streamline, according to The Permitting Institute (TPI), and of the more than 900 projects over $200 million moving through the federal permitting process, only around 60 are being publicly tracked.

Participants heard from Alex Herrgott from TPI and Ben Grumbles from the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), who discussed generational opportunities to build and repair infrastructure – from roads and bridges to energy generation and distribution to the broadband connections needed to uplift communities and bridge the digital divide.

Both stressed the “urgent need” to improve the way projects obtain permit approvals and Herrgott said some of the most significant delays within the permitting process occur at the state level, where 80 per cent of the permitting process happens.

The workshop concluded with a demonstration by AECOM showing ways  technology can promote transparency and community engagement in the permitting process.

“Many state agencies have found that moving to or adding a virtual participation option has increased public participation and feedback during the project development stage,” the presenter said. “Innovative software allows greater community involvement than previously possible with physical meetings, allowing people to access the information as their schedule allows and increasing opportunities for input.”

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