WASHINGTON — Richie Beyer, the county engineer for Elmore County, Ala., testified March 1 before a joint hearing of the U.S. House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Energy and the Environment and the Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Affairs on impediments to the effective delivery of federal aid road and bridge projects.
On behalf of the National Association of Counties and the National Association of County Engineers, Beyer emphasized that federal funding of county projects invariably leads to longer delivery times and higher project costs. Cumbersome red tape and often duplicative regulatory reviews delay projects and increase labor costs.
On average, Beyer said, a project completed with federal funds costs twice as much as a projected completed with local funds alone.
“Counties are required to follow the same exhaustive federal requirements on a small sidewalk or preservation project as we would for mega-projects. This simply does not make sense,” he said.
Additionally, federal bureaucracy can be particularly cumbersome in the aftermath of disasters, inhibiting counties’ abilities to repair roads and bridges efficiently. As an example, Beyer cited the Christmas Day flooding in 2015 that resulted in severe road damage in several Alabama counties. Though work performed in existing rights-of-way should not require the same review as new construction, Beyer argued, federal red tape delayed repairs for several weeks.
In his testimony, Beyer described two potential solutions. One solution for low-risk projects would be creating an exemption from all federal requirements if the project receives less than $5 million in federal funding, an idea introduced in MAP-21 and furthered in the FAST Act.
Second, emergency projects shouldn’t be subject to exhaustive federal review, Beyer said.
Such streamlining would allow both the federal and county government to better serve our residents, he said. This issue is important to NACo because counties own 46 percent of all public road miles and 38 percent of U.S. bridges.
“Counties stand ready to work with our federal partners to practically achieve our shared goals of strengthening transportation networks, improving public safety and advancing our economic competitiveness,” Beyer said.