Critical bridge repairs caught up in red tape

Across the country, one in nine bridges is considered structurally deficient, but federal and state regulations are delaying much-needed repairs. In some cases, some public projects tied up in red tape can take up to 10 years, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegeues.

When work on the Bayonne Bridge, which connects New York and New Jersey, is completed in 2016, super-sized container ships from the Panama Canal will pass under its new, higher deck. Raising the bridge's deck by 64 feet was considered so crucial to the U.S. economy that President Obama signed an executive order to fast track the regulatory process.

"It took four years, but by infrastructure standards, that's very quick. Most projects take five, six, seven, eight, more than 10 years to get to construction," Bayonne Bridge program director Joann Papageorgis said.

But before the project even began, nearly $2 million was spent on consultant fees, including costs for more than 10,000 pages of mandated archaeological, architectural, soil, flora and fauna and sunlight reports.

"The holdup is a series of regulations that have evolved over time from very simple guidelines into layers and layers of complex regulations," Papageorgis said.

Regulations required the bridge's operator to study things like the impact of construction on Native American tribes that passed through the area more than a hundred years ago. In all, more than 300 groups were consulted.

The regulatory process took four years, the same amount of time construction on the 5,800 foot span is expected to take.

Industry observers said the overall review process is cumbersome, outdated and is putting the public at risk.

"There's got to be a way of working more effectively," American Society of Civil Engineers' Executive Director, Pat Natale said. "Using red tape to protect the public, not to delay the project, and I think it's being misused in some cases."

And it's not just the big projects facing bureaucratic hurdles, it's the small projects as well. A one-block bridge about 18 miles from New York is getting a much needed $8 million facelift. It's a project that's going to take about two years. But to get to this point, it's taken about a million dollars' worth of reports, and six years.

"In government, everyone gets involved and the length of a project is ridiculously long," Westchester County executive Rob Astorino said.

His office is funding the project.

"There needs to be one agency that shepherds it through quickly, monitors the costs," Astorino said.

And frustrated residents agree.

"I don't think it would take that long to build a new bridge, but fixing one takes that long," Westchester resident Paul Faulkner said.

But it doesn't have to be that way -- some projects are completed quickly and efficiently. When a bridge north of Seattle collapsed, plunging into the water, the governor acted quickly to sidestep years of regulations. The new bridge was quickly put in place, in just four weeks.