Department of Transportation
11:40 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Secretary Chao. Thank you, everybody. This is very nice, by the way. Beautiful. I want to really thank you. You have been so amazing as the leader of this department, and the progress is being made so quickly. Leaders and officials gathered here from across the country have all praised the work that the Secretary is doing to create a safe, modern and reliable transportation system for the United States and for its great, great, great people.
I also want to thank Secretary Zinke for the fantastic job he’s doing at the Department of the Interior to clear the way for new infrastructure and economic development.
Both Secretary Chao and Zinke joined us at the White House yesterday for a meeting with state and local leaders to develop plans to replace America’s decaying infrastructure and construct new roads, rails, pipelines, tunnels, and bridges all across our nation.
We are here today to focus on solving one of the biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately needed infrastructure, and that is the painfully slow, costly, and time-consuming process of getting permits and approvals to build. And I also knew that from the private sector. It is a long, slow, unnecessarily burdensome process.
My administration is committed to ending these terrible delays once and for all. The excruciating wait time for permitting has inflicted enormous financial pain to cities and states all throughout our nation and has blocked many important projects from ever getting off the ground. Many, many projects are long gone because they couldn’t get permits and there was no reason for it.
We’ve already taken historic steps to speed up the approvals, including the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline — which was very quickly approved. They were sitting there for a long time saying, well, that project is dead. Then I came into office and, all of the sudden, a miracle. And I guarantee you, the consultants went over to the heads of the company and told them what a great job they did. They asked for a lot of money, most likely. But we got it approved. And we got it approved fast.
I’m also very proud to say that the Dakota Access Pipeline is now officially open for business. It was dead 120 days ago, and now it officially just opened for business. Very proud of that. Hi, Bill.
We’re also excited to be joined by representatives from our labor unions, including the North America Building Trades Union, which I know well, and the Laborers International Union of North America. You will play a — go ahead, fellas, take a little credit. Come on, fellas. You will play a central role in rebuilding America. Very important.
We’re also joined, as well, by many distinguished members of Congress who share our total passion and desire to repair and restore America’s highways, railways, and waterways. In the audience is Chairman Bill Shuster of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Stand up, Bill. Thank you, Bill, great job — who is working very closely with us, including on our proposal to dramatically reduce airport delays by reforming air traffic control.
We have an obsolete system. And I have to say, before Elaine got here, they had spent close to $7 billion on the system. Boom — a waste. All wasted. But we’re going to have a great system — great new system. A top of the line — it will be the best in the world. Right now, we’re at the lowest part of the pack. It will be the best in the world, for a lot less money than they’ve been wasting for years.
For too long, America has poured trillions and trillions of dollars into rebuilding foreign countries while allowing our own country — the country that we love — and its infrastructure to fall into a state of total disrepair. We have structurally deficient bridges, clogged roads, crumbling dams and locks. Our rivers are in trouble. Our railways are aging. And chronic traffic that slows commerce and diminishes our citizens’ quality of life. Other than that, we’re doing very well.
Instead of rebuilding our country, Washington has spent decades building a dense thicket of rules, regulations and red tape. It took only four years to build the Golden Gate Bridge and five years to build the Hoover Dam and less than one year to build the Empire State Building. People don’t believe that. It took less than one year. But today, it can take 10 years and far more than that just to get the approvals and permits needed to build a major infrastructure project.
These charts beside me are actually a simplified version of our highway permitting process. It includes 16 different approvals involving 10 different federal agencies being governed by 26 different statutes.
As one example — and this happened just 30 minutes ago — I was sitting with a great group of people responsible for their state’s economic development and roadways. All of you are in the room now. And one gentleman from Maryland was talking about an 18-mile road. And he brought with him some of the approvals that they’ve gotten and paid for. They spent $29 million for an environmental report, weighing 70 pounds and costing $24,000 per page.
And I said, do me a favor. I’m going to make a speech in a little while. Do you mind if I take that and show it? So I’m going to show it. So they spent millions and millions of dollars. When I said, how long has this short roadway been talked about, the gentleman said, well, if you say 20 years, you’re safe. I said, yeah, don’t say anymore because I have to be — you know, I have to be exactly accurate with these people. I was off by like two months — it’s a major front-page story.
But these binders on the stage could be replaced by just a few simple pages, and it would be just as good. It was actually be much better. Because these binders also make you do unnecessary things that cost billions and billions of dollars and they actually make it worse.
As another example, the 23 — if you look at it, in Ohio, the Ohio River Bridge — $2.3 billion. The project amassed a 150,000-page administrative record — 150,000 pages is a five-story-tall building. Think of it. If you put the paper together, it’s a five-story building.
How can a country prosper under this kind of nonsense? And I know it. I know it so well, being in the private sector. But you know, in the private sector you move, and you wheel, and you deal, and you hope, and you pray. And maybe it goes a little faster, but it’s a horrible thing in the private sector also. And we’re talking about reducing that for the private sector likewise.
Why should we continue to accept what is so clearly unacceptable? Oftentimes, the consultants — that are making a fortune because you can’t doing anything without hiring them, paying them a tremendous amount of money, having them write up this nonsense — you can’t get approvals. And they’re in, in the case of New York, Albany — they go to Albany, the state capital or, here, they go to Washington for federal. And they want to make it really tough because that way, you have to hire them. It’s a terrible thing. It’s a group of people — probably nobody has ever heard anybody talk about it because — I know it because I’m a business guy, I understand that. They work really hard to make it difficult. And some are believers, but most aren’t. Most want to make a lot of money. So they make a very, very simple roadway or whatever you want to be building a very complicated subject, and they make it very much more expensive and they make it worse. It’s not as good as it would have been.
I was not elected to continue a failed system. I was elected to change it. All of us in government service were elected to solve the problems that have plagued our nation. We are here to think big, to act boldly, and to rise above the petty partisan squabbling of Washington D.C. We are here to take action. It’s time to start building in our country, with American workers and with American iron, and aluminum and steel. It’s time to put up soaring new infrastructure that inspires pride in our people and our towns.
When I approved the Keystone Pipeline I said, where was the pipe made? Unfortunately, they had purchased a lot of it, but I put a little clause at the bottom — you want to build a pipeline in this country, buy American steel and let it be fabricated here. Very simple little clause written in hand, but it does the trick.
It is time, at last, to put America First. Americans deserve the best infrastructure anywhere in the world. They deserve roads and bridges that are safe to travel, and pipes that deliver clean water into their homes. Not like what happened in Flint, Michigan. They deserve lanes of commerce that get people and products where they need to go on time. Most of all, Americans deserve a system of infrastructure that is looked upon not with pity — the world, in many cases, is so far advanced that they look at our infrastructure as being sad. We want them to look at us with envy — a system worthy of our magnificent country.
No longer can we allow these rules and regulations to tie down our economy, chain up our prosperity, and sap our great American spirit. That is why we will lift these restrictions and unleash the full potential of the United States of America.
To all our state and local leaders, I appreciate you being here today. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Bill. I want you to know that help is finally — after many, many decades — on its way. We are giving control back to the cities and the states. You know best how to plan your communities, analyze your projects, and protect your local environment.
We will get rid of the redundancy and duplication that wastes your time and your money. Our goal is to give you one point of contact to deliver one decision — yes or no — for the entire federal government, and to deliver that decision quickly, whether it’s a road, whether it’s a highway, a bridge, a dam.
To do this, we are setting up a new council to help project managers navigate the bureaucratic maze. This council will also improve transparency by creating a new online dashboard allowing everyone to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process. This council will make sure that every federal agency that is consistently delaying projects by missing deadlines will face tough, new penalties. I know it won’t happen with these two. We don’t have to worry about them. We will hold the bureaucracy accountable.
We are also creating a new office in the Council of Environmental Quality to root out inefficiency, clarify lines of authority, and streamline federal and state and local procedures so that communities can modernize their aging infrastructure without fear of outdated federal rules getting in their way.
This massive permit reform — and that’s what it is; it’s a permit reform — doesn’t sound glamorous. They won’t write stories about it. They won’t even talk about it. But it’s so important. But it’s only the first step in renewing America’s roads, rails, runways and rivers.
As I discussed in Ohio recently, my new vision for American infrastructure will generate $1 trillion in infrastructure investment — which we desperately need. We’ve spent, as of a few months ago, $6 trillion in the Middle East. Think of it — $6 trillion in the Middle East. And it’s worse than it was 15 years ago by a factor of 10. And yet, if you want to build a little road in one of your communities in Pennsylvania or Ohio, or in Iowa, or in North Carolina, or in Florida, you can’t get the money.
State and local leaders will have more power to decide which projects get built, when they start and how they are funded. And investors will have a much more predictable environment that encourages them to invest billions of dollars in capital that is currently stuck on the sidelines.
Together, we will build projects to inspire our youth, employ our workers, and create true prosperity for our people. We will pour new concrete, lay new brick, and watch new sparks light our factories as we forge metal from the furnaces of our Rust Belt and our beloved heartland — which has been forgotten. It’s not forgotten anymore.
We will put new American steel into the spine of our country. American workers will construct gleaming new lanes of commerce across our landscape. They will build these monuments from coast to coast, and from city to city. And with these new roads, bridges, airports and seaports, we will embark on a wonderful new journey into a bright and glorious future. We will build again. We will grow again. We will thrive again. And we will Make America Great Again.
Thank you. God bless you. I appreciate it. Thank you very much. Thank you.