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Obama pushes infrastructure plans

Keywords: Tags  executive order, infrastructure, President Barack Obama, Associated General Contractors of America, Marcia Hale, Building America's Future, Samuel Frizell

NEW YORK — President Obama has signed an executive order aimed at speeding up major infrastructure projects by modernizing permitting practices and regulations, a move some say could benefit suppliers of steel and other structural components by getting backlogged construction projects off the ground sooner.

According to the White House, the order is intended to "modernize the federal government’s review and permitting of infrastructure projects and reduce aggregate timelines for major infrastructure projects by half."

Specific projects mentioned in the order include roadways, railroads, aviation, ports, renewable energy generation, pipelines, bridges and canals.

Federal infrastructure projects often take many years, with each project subject to reviews by multiple agencies. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, it currently takes an average of 13 years to take a highway construction project from concept to completion, with much of that time dedicated to the permitting process.

"Assuming that the executive order translates to actual changes in policy ... it could shave months, if not years, off the process," a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America told AMM.

Project delays are often caused by the sequence of reviews, the spokesman said, noting that only one federal agency examines a project at a time before passing it to the next. If one agency disapproves of the project, it sends the plan back to the first reviewing agency and the review process begins all over again, he said. The new executive order calls for concurrent project reviews, allowing multiple agencies to review a project at the same time.

The order is also intended to expand coordination with state and local governments, revise key regulations and expand the use of information technology tools, among other directives.

"(The order will) expedite major infrastructure projects and place the U.S. on a fast track to economic recovery," Marcia Hale, president of Building America’s Future Educational Fund, said in a statement. "Cutting the red tape that delays infrastructure projects will enable our nation to invest in 21st-century energy, transportation, water and other systems."

The Associated General Contractors of America spokesman said an expedited permitting process is likely to increase demand for steel.

"If it works the way it should, the executive order should help accelerate a host of projects that should benefit a range of suppliers, including steel suppliers," he said.

"The big questions is: Is this a nice piece of show or is this going to lead to substantive changes?" he said. "You need the leadership from the top of all the agencies involved to say that (the president) has mandated this; we need to sit down with our counterparts and go over this application and make a decision. (And) we need to do it quickly."

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