Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes meets with Trump team on road issues

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes was in Washington 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.

Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he doesn't know what to expect of the federal program.

"I would say that the state would be prepared to, I think, come up with its share of money for infrastructure because of the tremendous need that we have for that. We'll wait and see what the feds actually do," he said.

If money becomes available from Washington, he said he hopes "that doesn't have a lot of strings attached."

Niederhauser said Utah has "some major infrastructure challenges going forward in our state because of the growth." He said he doesn't believe the state is keeping up, especially with roads.

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said Utah is already spending $600 million in general fund money on top of gas tax collections for transportation needs and additional resources for water development, money that could be used to match federal dollars.

"I think Utah is in a great position to respond to any type of federal infrastructure. I think we'd find a way to match," Adams said. "I look forward to it. Actually, it would be nice to see."

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.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

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Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.


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