Transportation trade groups are praising President Obama's call to rebuild the nation’s efforts infrastructure but some members of Congress say the administration will have to put more details behind broad pleas for investment.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the administration itself had "derailed" the surface transportation reauthorization bill in 2009, and now needs to offer a plan that builds infrastructure "in a fiscally responsible manner."
"It is encouraging that they are now on board with getting infrastructure projects and jobs moving again,” said Mica. “However, just another proposal to spend more of the taxpayers’ money, when we have billions of dollars sitting idle tied up in government red tape, will never get our economic car out of the ditch.”
The president’s second State of the Union address put rebuilding infrastructure among five primary goals for the next year. He said within 25 years 80 percent of Americans should be able to travel on high-speed trains, and he warned that China, Europe and Russia were outstripping the U.S. in investment.
“Over the last two years, we’ve begun a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts,” Obama said. “We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what’s best for the economy, not politicians.”
Although Republicans and Democrats on the transportation both say they want to produce a new highway bill, there is a large gap in Congress between those advocating improved infrastructure and calls for reduced government spending.
“We must at least invest as much in ourselves as our competitor nations are investing in their own futures,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., ranking member on the transportation committee. “Certainly we need to tighten our budgetary belt, but it is folly to suggest that we blindly slash investments in basic infrastructure which are so vital to our long-term economic recovery.”
John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said the group is encouraged by the president’s remarks and pledged to work with Congress and the White House to form new transportation bill this year.
“We continue to be encouraged that President Obama supports investing in America's transportation infrastructure, recognizing the role it plays in creating jobs, growing the national economy and balancing the federal deficit," Horsley said.
“Last night’s speech wasn’t just another State of the Union address – it was a president committing to thinking big about America’s future and making our 21st Century transportation system and infrastructure the envy of the world again,” said Edward Wytkind, President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. He also voiced support for new transportation legislation.
Pete Ruane, president of the American Association of Road and Transportation Builders, said that the president and Congress were overdue in working together to draft a transportation bill.
“Our international competitors have been heavily investing in well-thought out national transportation development programs for future growth,” Ruane said. “Meanwhile, we’ve been trying to shoehorn one of the 21st century’s largest economies into a severely constrained 20th century transportation network. It’s time to get off the path to a second-rate economy and invest for future growth and American jobs.”
Glenn English, chairman of Consumers United for Rail Equity, said that the call for infrastructure investment should not mean more subsidies for railroads.
“Freight rail companies are already getting subsidies worth hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars,” English said. “We don’t need additional rail subsidies to strengthen U.S. companies; we need reforms to increase competition in the freight rail industry.”
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