WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced a comprehensive infrastructure plan to expand and renew the nation’s roads, railways, and runways. A significant portion of the new investments would be front-loaded in the first year.
This plan would build on investments already made under the Recovery Act, create jobs for American workers to strengthen the economy now, and increase the nation’s growth and productivity in the future. At the same time, the plan would reform the way America currently invests in transportation, changing its focus to enhancing competition, innovation, performance, and real analysis that gets taxpayers the best bang for their buck, while moving away from the earmarks and formula debates of the past. In prior years, transportation infrastructure was an issue that both parties worked on together, and the administration hopes the same can be true now.
Some of the tangible accomplishments of the President’s plan during the next six years include: Rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads, constructing and maintaining 4,000 miles of rail, and rehabilitating or reconstructing 150 miles of runway while putting in place a NextGen system that will reduce travel time and delays.
The president’s plan would accomplish this through an up-front investment in our nation’s infrastructure. This initial investment would fund improvements in the nation’s surface transportation, as well as its airports and air traffic control system. The president proposes to pair this with a long-term framework to reform and expand the nation’s investment in transportation infrastructure. Since the end of last year, when the last long-term surface transportation legislation expired, these investments have been continued on a temporary basis, even as the trust fund to finance them has fallen into insolvency. If we are to enjoy the benefits that come from a world-class transportation system, Congress must enact a long-term reauthorization that expands and reforms our infrastructure investments and returns the transportation trust fund to solvency. To jumpstart job creation, this long-run policy front-loads — through a $50 billion up-front investment — a significant share of the new infrastructure resources. As with other long-run policies, the administration is committed to working with Congress to fully pay for the plan.
The long-term framework includes meaningful reforms:
•The establishment of an infrastructure bank to leverage federal dollars and focus on investments of national and regional significance that often fall through the cracks in the current siloed transportation programs
•The integration of high-speed rail on an equal footing into the surface transportation program to ensure a sustained and effective commitment to a national high-speed rail system over the next generation
•Streamlining, modernizing, and prioritizing surface transportation investments, consolidating more than 100 different programs and focusing on using performance measurement and “race-to-the-top” style competitive pressures to drive investment toward better policy outcomes
•Expanding investments in areas like safety, environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, and livability — helping to build communities where people have choices about how to travel, including options that reduce oil consumption, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and expand access to job opportunities and affordable housing
Overall, transportation agencies are reacting positively to the president’s plans. They all agree that an investment in America’s infrastructure is vital; however, the investment shouldn’t stand on its own.
"We are highly supportive of President Obama’s proposal to immediately invest $50 billion to rebuild roads, expand high-speed rail, and rehabilitate airport runways," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
"We have demonstrated that investing in transportation infrastructure is one of the fastest ways to create and sustain jobs. An AASHTO January 2010 survey of states showed 9,800 ready-to-go projects valued at nearly $80 billion. If Congress wants to pass legislation investing in our transportation infrastructure, the states stand ready to put those dollars to work."
American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President & CEO Pete Ruane responded with the following statement: “On behalf of over 5,000 members of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, we commend the president for his focus on infrastructure investment. He has correctly noted, as our members would attest, that infrastructure investment creates jobs, improves our global competitiveness, and fuels economic growth.”
“Passage of robust, multi-year transportation bills is essential to assure predictability and continuity in the domestic transportation design and construction industry, and to help achieve the national environmental, goods movement and safety goals we all share," Ruane said. "Accordingly, the $50 billion investment proposed by President Obama must be part of a long-term reauthorization bill and not a stand-alone measure. Infrastructure investment is a proven cost effective public policy that provides recurring benefits for decades to come.”
Bruce D’Agostino, CAE, FCMAA, president and CEO of the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) agrees that investment in infrastructure is vital. He supports the idea of a National Infrastructure Bank. However, he does have some concerns about the president’s plan.
“Although details are sparse, the White House description of the infrastructure plan paints a familiar picture: Major emphasis on short-term repair and rehab projects chosen for their potential to generate new jobs quickly,” D’Agostino said in a statement. “Certainly we must maintain and repair our roads, runways, and railways. But we also urgently need to build new resources. We need a disciplined, long-term plan for expanding our infrastructure and linking these vital investments to dependable funding sources. We also believe transportation infrastructure should be the exclusive focus of this planning process, and not share attention and funding with an extensive laundry list of other priorities. This is why CMAA continues to advocate prompt action on a long-term surface transportation authorization bill to replace SAFETEA-LU, which expired a year ago. Since the president’s announcement, a number of people have suggested that no action can be taken on these initiatives before 2011. CMAA believes our infrastructure needs have already waited too long to be addressed. We support both a National Infrastructure Bank and a long-term authorization bill, and believe action must come sooner rather than later.”
David A. Raymond, president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), responded to the plan saying, “President Barack Obama’s proposed $50 billion in transportation funds is critically needed but should be coupled with a renewed effort to pass surface transportation, aviation, and water infrastructure bills currently stalled in Congress.”
Raymond added, “Failure to renew these programs contributes to uncertainty and constriction in these markets. The current economic climate makes the legislation all the more timely.”
"Our nation’s economy can’t survive without the stable foundation infrastructure provides. It allows goods to move across the country, water to flow from our taps and energy to be accessed with the flip of a switch. But, for decades, we have allowed that foundation to crumble," said Patrick J. Natale, P.E., F.ASCE, CAE, ASCE executive director. "The solution to reversing the trend, and creating a better reality for our children and our grandchildren, requires that we have a dedicated source of funding and an increase in federal leadership to actually put it into use. The president’s new investment plan has the potential to be a real part of such a solution. We applaud him for taking a leadership position, and we encourage Congress to work with the administration on this critical national issue. We also look forward to learning more about the details of the plan, in particular, whether or not it will be paid for by the users, as has successfully been done since the beginning of the interstate system in the 1950s."