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© Daniel Raustadt

The Trump administration is seeking to fast-track infrastructure project approval, but forwarders fear the windows for logistics planning may shrink as a result.

On 15 August, President Trump signed an executive order aiming to curtail the time it takes to get an infrastructure project approved and delivered.

The Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects order allows an administration to develop a score card that tracks progress on a quarterly basis. Projects that miss key milestones will automatically spark senior agency officials’ attention.

According to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chow, the average environmental review takes nearly five years and can be subject to 65 or more requirements or permits.

She added that her department had already identified over two dozen policies and rules that will improve the process.

During his election campaign, Donald Trump promised a US$1 trillion programme to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. According to a study published last November by Washington-based transport research group TRIP, just fixing deteriorating roads and bridges in the US requires an investment of $740bn.

In conjunction with $1 trillion in funding, the executive order suggests that the administration is about to unleash a flurry of infrastructure projects.

Willy Hoffmann, senior vice-president of BNSF Logistics, welcomes the move. he said: “I think that’s a great step towards cutting bureaucracy and costs and will hopefully open the door for a lot of new infrastructure projects.”

On the other hand, for project forwarders, who often find time for logistics planning tight due to project owners tackling this aspect late in the process (not infrequently after the project has received the green light), this could mean even tighter windows to get their job done.

“While this is good for jump-starting shelved infrastructure projects around the country, it will likely lead to a nightmare of logistics planning,” warned Colin D’Abreo, CEO of forwarder KOG Transport.

“Many projects, such as strengthening/replacing entire, or parts of, bridges for example, require large components. This will lead to bottlenecks in the inland transport permitting sectors, leading to delays in the projects,”

Susan St Germain, executive director of projects at TransGroup Global Logistics, noted that federal orders only applied to federally managed infrastructure, such as federal highways. For projects utilising city or state roads, the respective permits would still have to be sorted out with the respective authorities.

“I can count on one hand in my long career how many projects I have worked on where they were built right next to a federal highway,” she said. “Most places in the country will require environmental impact studies prior to a site receiving its permit for construction.”

Moreover, she believes there is virtually no budgeting in place for federal transportation infrastructure projects.

“We have ‘cleared the way for faster permits’ on federal highways that the current administration has not funded, nor have they articulated a plan,” she said.

Two days after the executive order was signed the White House announced that it had abandoned plans to establish a council of independent advisors on infrastructure that was supposed to scrutinise transport projects and assist the government in the formulation of its infrastructure rebuilding plans.