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Today President Barack Obama -- surrounded by transportation officials, politicians and policy experts -- called on Republicans to get behind his initial $50 billion spending proposal to bring the country’s transportation infrastructure into the 21st century.
Some critics have said that a massive rebuilding of bridges, highways, railways, mass transit and airports is the stimulus planand bail-out that the Obama Administration should have been pursuing all along.
“Focusing on transit, high-speed rail and repair of roads and bridges increases the return on infrastructure investment,” said CALPIRG transportation advocate Erin Steva after today’s meeting.
Steva called Obama’s infrastructure initiative “timely and spot-on, as unemployment in the construction sector remains sky-high, and the nation’s transportation infrastructure is woefully outdated. “
"There's no reason why we can't do this," Obama said in a brief Rose Garden event. "There's no reason why the world's best infrastructure should lie beyond our borders. This is America. We've always had the best infrastructure ... All we need is the political will."
Obama's words seemed almost pointed at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who last Thursday stopped a decades-in-the-making train tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan, saying the state can't afford to pay for cost overruns on the already under-construction project.
The tunnel was the largest federal transportation project in the country. Iit was expected to double train traffic in and out of New York City during peak commute times once completed in 2018.
Obama originally laid out his vision for an aggressive rebuilding of the nation’s transportation infrastructure over the Labor Day holiday. This would be the first step in a six-year $500 billion program that the president says amounts to playing catch-up with other nations.
"Everywhere else, they're thinking big. They're creating jobs today, but they're also playing to win tomorrow," Obama said of some of the top economic competitors to the United States. "So the bottom line is our shortsightedness has come due. We can no longer afford to sit still."
The Economic Policy Institute weighed in this past June with a report that said transportation infrastructure investment could jump start the economy.
“Transportation investments represent an opportunity for Congress to kick the economy into a higher gear by creating millions of well-paying jobs while simultaneously addressing the backlog of repair and maintenance in transportation that has been growing for decades,” according to Ethan Pollack’s paper “The job impact of transportation reauthorization. “
That’s what the president is thinking, too: “By making these investments across the country,” said Obama, “we won't just make our economy run better over the long haul; we will create good, middle-class jobs right now.”
Among those attending Obamas’s session this morning was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who seems to have energized the transportation movement with his 30/10 proposal to cram 30 years worth of LA transportation projects into the next 10 years.
The mayor was recently in the spotlight at a Senate Committee on Environment and public Works hearing, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer on the subjectof transportation financing.
“Accelerating projects would create an estimated 160,000 jobs while easing congestion and reducing dangerous pollution. That means healthier families -- and a healthier economy -- in the LA region,” said Boxer in her opening statement.
“I believe the 30/10 Initiative can serve as a model that can be replicated in many cities and states across this country.”
Obama is trying to corral GOP support, emphasizing that the transportation bill is also a jobs-creation bill. Indeed, with Obama this morning were two former transportation secretaries who served Republican presidents, Norman Y. Mineta, (for the younger President Bush ) and Samuel K. Skinner (for George HW Bush).
And while a prominent Republican, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, has expressed a willingness to talk about transportation with the president, much of Congress is wary of embracing such a big-ticket bill with the election so close.
Obama asked for Republican support, saying infrastructure work typically draws bipartisan support, but such cooperation seems unlikely in the current partisan atmosphere.
The timing also comes as Obama is eager to show action on the sluggish economy just ahead of the Nov. 2 congressional elections, with his party in jeopardy of losing a sizable number of seats in the House and Senate.
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