Why Does It Take So Long to Build Stuff?
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Repairs to the Washington Monument caused by an August 2011 earthquake might force it to be closed until 2014 according to the Washington Post. Let’s hope there are no environmental issues or local complaints that come up to create further delay, because that could push its reopening further off.
This longer time frame from repairs to the monument begs a broader question, “Why does it take so long to build stuff?” Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum and Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest both wonder what has made it so difficult to complete projects.
Drum offers that some of the problem is that the time it takes to complete environmental impact statements (EIS) has steadily increased over the years. Let me add that, in testimony to Congress earlier this year, Bill Kovacs, Senior Vice President, Environment, Technology, and Regulatory Affairs at the U.S. Chamber, told a House Judiciary Subcommittee that from 1998 to 2006, the average time to complete an EIS was 3.4 years.
Mead adds that local opposition also causes problems:
NIMBYism [Not In My Back Yard] and other outside forces are also at work and these have little to do with whether a particular project is on a fast track inside the bureaucracy. It’s not just the permit bureaucracies that suck time and human resources and money away from highway repairs or windmill construction. External lawsuits can drag on for years, especially when, as is often the case, the plaintiffs are deliberately doing everything they can to drag out the legal process. Appeals, reviews, demands for new studies: the NIMBY industry is very good at orchestrating legal, political and bureaucratic moves to make infrastructure as difficult and as expensive as possible to build.
Check out Project No Project for hundreds of examples of projects delayed by both bureaucratic delays and NIMBYism
Drum uses the example of the rebuilding of a bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis that took only 14 months to show how coordination between state, federal, and local agencies sped up the completion of the project. No corners were cut and no permit waivers were issued.
Indeed, better permit coordination among agencies would speed up projects, and the RAPID (Responsibly And Professionally Invigorating Development) Act would help do that. In his testimony, Kovacs noted that the bill would designate one agency as the lead on processing permits and approvals and would accept state regulatory reviews to avoid duplication.
The RAPID Act would address Mead's NIMBY concern by encouraging stakeholders to get involved earlier in the development of the project, to note their complaints, and to work with agencies in finding constructive solutions.
It’s doubtful that an EIS will even be needed or any local concerns will come up to delay repairs on the Washington Monument. However, we do know that studies, permitting delays, and NIMBY activism slow down much-needed, job-creating projects across the country. Reforms like that found in the RAPID Act, expected to be voted on in the House of Representatives later this month, would cut through the red tape and help America get back to building stuff more easily.