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AASHTO Journal

Obama Asks Congress for $60 Billion in <br>Transportation Funding to Boost Employment
President Barack Obama, addressing a joint session of Congress on Thursday evening, said he will submit to Capitol Hill Sept. 19 legislation to pump $447 billion into the struggling economy by expediting transportation projects, offering federal funding for school construction and teacher hiring, cutting payroll taxes for workers and employers, offering a tax credit to businesses that hire the long-term unemployed, and extending unemployment insurance benefits for those Americans out of work for six months or longer.

Details on the transportation component of the bill, to be called the American Jobs Act, are to be unveiled over the next several days. The president did not offer dollar amounts for his envisioned transportation spending, but a White House fact sheet released Thursday indicates the administration will seek $50 billion for highways, transit, rail, and aviation. The bill would also include $10 billion to capitalize a national infrastructure bank.

Obama described the American Jobs Act as "a jolt to the economy that is stalled" during his speech to Congress. He said the $60 billion in transportation stimulus funding proposed would put people back to work rebuilding America.

"Pass this jobs bill, and we can put people to work rebuilding America," the president told Congress. "Everyone here knows we have badly decaying roads and bridges all over the country. Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our skies are the most congested in the world. It's an outrage. Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we're going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America?" 

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials today endorsed Obama's call for additional transportation investment, noting that it would help the nation's economic recovery and create jobs.

AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley said that states, counties, and cities demonstrated the last time Congress targeted extra funds to transportation -- $48 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 -- that transportation infrastructure can quickly create jobs in every corner of the country.

"We hope that the president, Senate, and House can reach bipartisan agreement on how to create jobs through an increase in transportation investment," Horsley said. "We applaud the president for his proposal to boost transportation investment and we are appreciative that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved Thursday a bipartisan bill to extend the highway and transit program at current levels of funding. (see related story) In contrast, the House transportation appropriations subcommittee passed a proposal Thursday that would reduce transportation investment by 34%, which would eliminate more than 600,000 jobs." (see related story)

During Thursday's address, the president noted that there are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work on needed projects.

"There's a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that's on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America," Obama said. "A [light-rail] project in Houston that will help clear up one of the worst areas of traffic in the country." 

Obama also re-emphasized his desire for Congress to create a national infrastructure bank to attract private dollars. He said the bank would award grants based on two criteria: "how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it will do for the economy." The president noted that both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO labor union support creating an infrastructure bank.

"The president's plan includes investments to improve our airports, support NextGen air traffic modernization efforts, and resources for the TIGER and TIFIA programs, which target competitive dollars to innovative multimodal infrastructure programs," according to the White House fact sheet. "It will also take special steps to enhance infrastructure-related job training opportunities for individuals from underrepresented groups and ensure that small businesses can compete for infrastructure contracts."

The president will also work administratively to speed infrastructure investment through a recently issued memorandum directing departments and agencies such as the U.S. Department of Transportation to identify high-impact, job-creating infrastructure projects that can be expedited through reviews and permitting processes, the fact sheet states.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-California, called the president's plan "the recipe we need to reinvigorate our economy" in a statement issued late Thursday evening.

"I particularly support his call for rebuilding our deficient roads, bridges, and schools and for helping homeowners refinance -- issues that I have been working with my Republican colleagues to address," Boxer said. "I will work on a bipartisan basis to pass the American Jobs Act."

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Florida, said in a statement that the president's speech lacked important details.

"While the president reconfirmed that our highways are clogged and our skies are congested, his well-delivered address provided only one specific recommendation for building our nation's infrastructure. Unfortunately, a national infrastructure bank run by Washington bureaucrats requiring Washington approval and Washington red tape is moving in the wrong direction. A better plan to improve infrastructure is to empower our states, 33 of which already have state infrastructure banks."

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia and ranking minority member of the House T&I Committee, said in a statement that he and Mica sat together during the joint session of Congress to symbolize the "bipartisan spirit that has been a hallmark of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for decades."

"The nation's roads and bridges and water systems are needs that even Americans of vastly different political leanings agree deserve greater federal investment -- not less," Rahall said. "Later this month, our nation's surface transportation programs will expire. We simply cannot afford to allow petty partisan bickering to prevent renewing these programs; that could jeopardize nearly one million private-sector jobs over the next year."

9/9/2011
Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.