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Obama on Infrastructure: ‘Fix it First’

Thursday, February 14, 2013

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Urgent infrastructure repairs commanded top-level attention Tuesday (Feb. 12), as President Obama called in his State of the Union address for a "Fix it First" approach to save the nation’s deteriorating surface transportation.

As he has in previous State of the Union Addresses, Obama called for billions in federal spending on roads, bridges, pipelines and other infrastructure projects.

"The American people don't expect government to solve every problem," Obama said. "They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party."

Fix it First statement

President Obama said his "Fix it First" program for infrastructure could be funded by a new Partnership to Rebuild America, supported by private capital "to upgrade what our businesses need most."

'Most Urgent Repairs'

"America's energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair," Obama said.

"So tonight, I propose a 'Fix It First' program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country."

The Fix It First approach, as outlined in the President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2013, states that too many elements of U.S. surface transportation "fall short of a state of good repair."

But while existing infrastructure deteriorates, current incentives encourage states and localities to emphasize new investments, rather than improving existing structures.

The reauthorization proposal will "underscore the importance of preserving and improving existing assets, encouraging its government and industry partners to make optimal use of current capacity, and minimizing life-cycle costs through sound asset management principles."

Paying for It

Accountability is a key element of the "Fix It First" approach, and states and localities will be required to report on highway condition and performance measures.

"And to make sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden, I'm also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods, modern pipelines to withstand a storm, modern schools worthy of our children," the President said.

Highway 33 Bridge - Union County, TN

Before rehabilitation, Tennessee's Highway 33 Bridge in Union County was one of 70,000 structurally deficient bridges in the United States. Bridges would be part of the "Fix it First" program.

Funding Highlights

The Department of Transportation's 2013 budget also includes:

  • $74 billion in discretionary and mandatory budgetary resources for the DOT, an increase of $1.4 billion over the 2012 enacted level, including job-creating infrastructure investments;
  • $50 billion requested in 2012 for immediate investments to support critical infrastructure to jump-start job creation;
  • $476 billion over six years for an "urgently needed" surface reauthorization plan to modernize the country's transportation system and pave the way for long-term economic growth; and
  • $2.7 billion in 2013 and $47 billion over six years to develop high-speed passenger rail corridors and improve intercity passenger rail service.

In 2012, the Department of Transportation’s funding was $73 billion, including spending on roads, bridges, passenger rail, buses, waterways, ports and aviation, and some operating costs, CNN reported.

The federal figure is about 30 to 40 percent of the country’s infrastructure spending, with state, local, and private sources funding the rest.

The budget proposes to fully offset the six-year surface transportation investments with the "peace dividend" savings from ramping down overseas military operations.

The Administration's budget also proposes to consolidate over 55 duplicative, "often earmarked" highway programs into five streamlined programs.

This would provide states and localities more flexibility to direct resources to the highest priorities, while establishing performance targets tied to national goals and move toward cost-benefit analyses of major new projects before they are started.

Damaged oil platform
Robert Kaufmann / FEMA

Obama noted storm damage to oil and gas infrastructure. In 2006, Category 4 Hurricane Rita destroyed 69 platforms and damaged 32, including this one in Venice, LA. The storm also damaged 83 pipelines.

But is it Enough?

Even the multibillion-dollar package may not be enough, some experts warn.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently published a report stating that the U.S. needed to invest an additional $1.57 billion per year between now and 2020 in drinking water and wastewater, electricity, surface transportation, seaports and waterways, and electricity infrastructure.

ASCE will release its 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure on March 19, the association said.

Others argue that the nation's infrastructure is in better condition than it sounds.

"To hear some people tell it, you'd think we were Haiti," said Ron Utt, a transportation consultant and former budget official in the Reagan administration.

Utt said ASCE's numbers reflect what would be necessary to bring the nation's roads up to perfect condition. He said a Federal Highway Administration report showed that the number of roads in good condition is going up each year.

"They may not be perfect, but we go through life with imperfections," said Utt. "There's no reason to spend all that money on something where the benefits won't outweigh the costs."


Tagged categories: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Government; Government contracts; Infrastructure; President Obama

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