SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes was in Washington, D.C., on Monday for a meeting on the Trump administration’s infrastructure initiative.
Hughes, R-Draper, was among state and local officials from several states on hand as President Donald Trump unveiled his plan to fix the nation's crumbling roads, bridges and waterways.
Trump wants to pump $1.5 trillion into the initiative while streamlining the often-cumbersome permitting process as part of a $4 trillion-plus budget proposal released Monday. The approval process, he said, would go from 10 years to two years and maybe to one year.
"We're going to get the roads in great shape,” Trump told those at the meeting, according to press pool reports. "Washington no longer will be a roadblock to progress."
Hughes joined 23 governors, mayors, state legislators and county commissioners in a meeting on transportation-related issues with several Cabinet members, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was in Utah last week. The speaker called it a "deep dive" into the initiative.
"We really did have a robust discussion, and it was bipartisan," Hughes said. "I'm glad that Utah has a seat at a table like that."
An early Trump supporter, Hughes’ name came up last year as a possible appointee in the transportation department. Hughes is not seeking re-election in 2018.
“As of a couple of months ago, we have spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. Seven trillion dollars. What a mistake. But it is what it is," Trump said. “We’re trying to build roads and bridges and fix bridges that are falling down and we have a hard time getting the money. It’s crazy.”
The infrastructure plan includes $100 billion in incentives requiring state and local government to put up big money or partner with private companies to unlock federal dollars. Trump said public-private partnerships would get jobs done on time and on budget.
Hughes said Utah is ahead of the curve in some areas, such as how it restructured the gas tax three years ago, and received assurances the initiative won't penalize the state for innovative approaches it has already undertaken.9 comments on this story
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, told Utah House Republicans on Monday that the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee that he leads would be involved in the regulatory side of the Trump plan. He said states would be more involved and have more say in the project permitting process.
"Even if you still stay within the guidelines, if you let the states do the paperwork, you can get done much quicker than what happens with the federal government being involved with that," he said.
Trump also acknowledged the need for improvements, notably broadband, in rural areas.
"The rural folks have been left out," he said.