In Baltimore, Biden Can Demonstrate How to Accelerate Rebuilding

Biden on collasped Bridge (Credits: Deccan Herald)

When addressing the crises stemming from the collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asserts that he’s exerting maximum effort. While commendable, it’s evident that the task at hand might require more than sheer determination.

The bridge reconstruction is anticipated to be a painstakingly slow process, mainly owing to the sluggish nature of infrastructure development in the United States. What’s needed now isn’t merely a transportation policy expert, a role Buttigieg doesn’t exactly fit, but rather a savvy, diligent politician, which Buttigieg undeniably embodies.

This leader ought to acknowledge the significant public skepticism rooted in valid concerns regarding the practicality of President Joe Biden’s ambitious initiatives for national revitalization amidst a terrain entangled in bureaucratic obstacles.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood projects that planning alone will span several years, with the actual rebuild extending beyond that. However, he expects Buttigieg to lay the groundwork for the undertaking.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (Credits: CNBC)

A pragmatic approach to laying this groundwork would involve rejecting the notion of a multi-year planning phase. After all, the bridge has stood since 1977; its basic specifications are well understood.

Engineers possess the essential details: the starting and ending points, required clearance for passing ships, and connectivity with adjacent roads. Hence, there’s no need to start planning from scratch.

While various stakeholders will propose differing strategies for rebuilding, the planning process can be expedited by focusing on the ultimate goal: a new bridge. Decision-makers must be prepared to make choices that may not please everyone and willing to live with that reality.

One common misconception in contemporary infrastructure planning is the belief that prolonged deliberation and increased input will naturally lead to consensus. In reality, our world necessitates trade-offs.

Political intervention is crucial in hastening the planning phase. Buttigieg should demand swift action from relevant decision-makers representing the city, state, port, and shipping companies operating in the harbor. Once planning hurdles are overcome, regulatory challenges await.

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro (Credits: NBC News)

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro‘s successful rebuild of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia is a testament to the efficacy of bold regulatory actions in expediting construction. His emergency proclamation authorized emergency procurement procedures and suspended specific regulatory statutes hindering swift action.

In Maryland’s case, if the Key Bridge is rebuilt exactly as it was, it qualifies for exemption from specific regulatory processes. However, incorporating safety enhancements like fenders or dolphins would negate this exemption. Such inconsistencies highlight the need for broader regulatory reform to streamline infrastructure projects.

The Biden administration’s ambitious goals for clean energy and transportation infrastructure face hurdles under existing conditions. While congressional momentum for systematic reform wavers, the closure of a major highway may compel action.

Biden and Buttigieg must ensure that the bridge’s reconstruction sets a precedent for expeditious public projects, thereby restoring public trust in government effectiveness.