Washington • Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes said Monday he won assurances from the White House that the state’s current fund for highway construction can be used to match federal dollars under President Donald Trump’s new initiative to rebuild roads, bridges and other government projects.
Hughes, who held a courtside seat with other state and local officials in a meeting with Trump in the White House’s State Dining Room, said he was concerned that the new initiative might preclude money already generated in Utah after the Legislature changed how the gas tax is calculated. But the White House signaled that wouldn’t be a problem.
“There is a look-back provision for those states that were thinking ahead,” Hughes said.
The Draper Republican said he also spoke to Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, about roadblocks the state has hit with getting approval for the West Davis Corridor — a 19-mile freeway heading northwest from Legacy Parkway through Davis and Weber counties. The Army Corps of Engineers, Hughes said, has requested a new environmental review, a move that could hold up construction.
Trump pitched his plan Monday to pour more federal money into rebuilding crumbling roads, bridges and waterways, arguing that public-private partnerships as well as quicker agency approvals would help drive the much-needed improvements.
“We’re going to get the roads in great shape,” Trump said. “Washington no longer will be a roadblock to progress.”
Trump said he wants to speed up the permitting for new projects to one to two years, down from the decade it can take in some cases.
Hughes, who took a day away from the Legislature’s general session, was one of a couple dozen state and local officials invited to the White House to hear Trump lay out his plan, and the speaker shook the president’s hand afterward.
“It was impressive to see speakers of the house, governors, county commissioners — you saw the people whose infrastructure, whether they be roads or water, really where the rubber hits the road — you saw those public servants in the room,” Hughes said. “It wasn’t just a photo op, and that’s something I really appreciated.”
Hughes has said he will not seek re-election and has angled for a job in the Trump administration previously, but added that there was no discussion Monday of any employment offer or future opportunity from the administration. Hughes said the president recognized him and has Utah’s back.
“Utah is on the map for this president,” Hughes, one of Trump’s early supporters, said. “With our population, our size, we can be a flyover state but not with this administration.”