President Obama has renewed his push for a six-year “fundamental overhaul” of the nation’s crumbling bridges, roads, rails and other infrastructure—a vast mission that could potentially put hundreds of thousands of America back to work.
“For years, we have deferred tough decisions, and today, our aging system of highways and byways, air routes and rail lines hinder our economic growth,” Obama said in an address from the White House Rose Garden, echoing remarks he first made on Labor Day.
“Today, the average American household is forced to spend more on transportation each year than food,” Obama said. Clogged roads and airports cost $90 billion in lost productivity and wasted fuel, he added.
“And in some cases, our crumbling infrastructure costs American lives,” the president said. “It should not take another collapsing bridge or failing levee to shock us into action.”
The president did not put a cost on his plan, but the initial investment has been estimated at $50 billion. Obama also maintained, as he has repeatedly, that the plan would be deficit neutral, funded by “an infrastructure bank to leverage federal dollars and focus on the smartest investments.” Additional funds, he said, would come from “consolidating and collapsing” more than 100 programs.
The return, Obama said, would not only repair and modernize roads, bridges and more, but would also provide desperately needed jobs—music to the ears of the U.S. construction industry, which has been hemorrhaging jobs since the recession began.
Unemployment in the construction industry is currently 17 percent; the national unemployment rate is 9.6 percent.
Growth and Modernization
Obama he said his six-year initiative would rebuild 150,000 miles of roads; lay and maintain 4,000 miles of railway and 150 miles of runways; and take the air-traffic control system into the next generation.
He said the program would build on progress made under the Recovery Act, creating smart electric grids and infrastructure that the 21st-century global economy demanded.
Beyond U.S. borders, Obama said the current system was quickly eroding the nation’s competitive edge against countries like China, which expects to build “hundreds of thousands of miles of new roads, dozens of new airports, and up to 170 mass transit systems” within 20 years.
“Today, as a percentage of GDP, we invest less than half of what Russia does in their infrastructure, less than one-third of what Western Europe does,” Obama said.
“Everywhere else, they’re thinking big. They’re creating jobs today, but they’re also playing to win tomorrow. So the bottom line is our shortsightedness has come due. We can no longer afford to sit still.”
In this bitterly partisan campaign season, Obama urged bipartisan support for the program and emphasized the point by speaking alongside former Secretaries of Transportation Samuel Skinner, who served under President George H.W. Bush, and Norman Mineta, who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Infrastructure investments are “something that members of both political parties have always supported,” he said. “It’s something that groups ranging from the Chamber of Commerce to the AFL-CIO support today.”
He noted that Americans benefited today because previous generations built their systems for the future.
“They invested yesterday for what we have today,” he said. “That’s how we built canals, and railroads, and highways, and ports that allowed our economy to grow by leaps and bounds.”
He added: “This is work that needs to be done. All we need is the political will."
House Republican leader John Boehner (OH) has called the infrastructure proposal “more of the same failed ‘stimulus’ spending.” He added: “If we’ve learned anything from the past 18 months, it’s that we can’t spend our way to prosperity.”
Read the full text of the speech.