It took four years to build the Golden Gate Bridge, along with 1.2 million steel rivets and 80,000 miles of wire inside the suspension cables.
The famous bridge was completed in 1937, strung together by enough wire to stretch across the U.S. nearly 30 times. But how long would it take to complete a similar project today — with our advanced technology, equipment, materials?
The surprising answer contradicts modern science and technology: At least twice that long (and maybe three times).
It might take four years just to complete the preliminary steps. Like land approvals. Construction permits. Exhaustive studies about the environmental impact on water and air currents and obscure forms of wildlife.
This is called bureaucracy. And it permeates the national level while seeping down to the state and local levels. If you want proof, try to build something locally. For instance, it cost $60,000 to secure approvals and permits to convert an old house into a popular Fernandina Beach restaurant — before even breaking ground.
Amid this regulatory logjam, preliminary steps must precede a $1 trillion infrastructure package gaining traction through Congress. The first step is to peel back the suffocating layers of red tape.
In a presentation about his monumental infrastructure plan, President Donald Trump cites examples of how the bureaucratic maze has halted or delayed important projects. Like highways and bridges and dams and railways and tunnels. All the while, our infrastructure is decaying, crumbling, suppressing economic activity.
“Instead of rebuilding our country,” Trump says, “Washington has spent decades building a dense thicket of rules, regulations and red tape.”
Trump summarizes his administration’s objective as a “massive permit reform.” He is calling for a streamlining process to correct “the painfully slow, costly and time-consuming process of getting permits and approvals to build.”
A new highway today almost requires a political compass to navigate the permitting process. You must obtain 16 different approvals from 10 federal agencies, which are governed by 26 statutes.
In Maryland, a project for a new 18-mile road required a $29 million environmental report, weighing 70 pounds. Trump held up three thick binders from the project and paged through them demonstratively, dropping one to a loud thud. “These binders also make you do unnecessary things that cost billions of dollars,” he says.
New bridges require even more intensive paperwork. To build the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridge, a 150,000-page administrative report had to be completed. When stacked together, the pages of the report are as tall as a five-story building.
“How can a country prosper under this kind of nonsense?” Trump asks. Other projects never even get started, suffocated by paperwork.
If you visit Fernandina Beach City Hall, you will find similar studies and exhaustive reports — that went nowhere. A counter-productive waste of time and money, that now collect dust. From Washington, D.C. to Fernandina Beach.
Trump also wants to reform the air-traffic control system, improve our airports, and clear the way for economically beneficial projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline. He plans to remove federal redundancy of rules, returning power to state and local leaders.
“I was not elected to continue a failed system,” Trump says. “I was elected to change it.”
In past years, the U.S. has poured trillions of dollars into rebuilding foreign countries — while omitting its own infrastructure. This trend is about to end.
“It’s time to start rebuilding our country with American workers and American iron and aluminum and steel,” Trump says. “It’s time to put up soaring new infrastructure that inspires pride in our people and in our towns.”
Trump points out examples of exemplary construction. It took only five years to build the Hoover Dam, and less than one year to construct the Empire State Building. It’s not possible today.
“No longer can we allow these rules and regulations to tie down our economy, chain up our prosperity and sap our great American spirit,” Trump said. “That is why we will lift these restrictions and unleash the full potential of the United States of America.”
(Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor and a chartered retirement planning counselor with a major U.S. firm who lives on Amelia Island. His financial columns appear in several newspapers in North Florida and in South Georgia. He has published a book of his favorite columns from the past 20 years, “All About Money.” The book is available at local stores and on Amazon.com. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)