Calling America's system of roads, rails and runways "woefully inefficient" and "outdated," President Obama met Monday with mayors and governors and proposed a multi-billion-dollar program to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure and jump-start job creation. The program, the president noted, would "be fully paid for. It will not add to our deficit over time."
Speaking to the media in the Rose Garden after his meeting, Obama reiterated many of the points first outlined in his Labor Day speech
in Milwaukee, Wis. earlier this year, at which he called for the rebuilding of 150,000 miles of road, 4,000 miles of railroad tracks and 150 miles of runways.
On Sunday, senior administration officials described a plan to make an initial $50 billion investment (on top of an estimated $60 billion already allocated towards infrastructure), which would be the first step in a six-year plan to rehabilitate roads, develop high-speed rails and repair broken transit lines. Some of this funding would be used for a proposed "infrastructure bank
" -- which would be administered by the government but would leverage both public and private sector
The president made the case for infrastructure investment as an engine for employment, saying that ongoing rail road and highway projects -- funded by the Recovery Act
-- have "already created hundreds of thousands of jobs." As further evidence, the president pointed to the results of a report
, released by the Treasury Department, which finds that 80 percent of the jobs directly created by investing in transportation infrastructure would be in the construction, manufacturing and retail trade sectors -- among those industries hardest hit by the recession. "Nearly one in five construction workers [remains] unemployed and needs a job," said the president.
Obama noted the impact of poor infrastructure on the country's economy: "The average American household is forced to spend more on transportation each year than food," he said. "Our roads, clogged with traffic, cost us $80 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel. Our airports, choked with passengers, cost nearly $10 billion a year in productivity losses from flight delays."
And he compared American investment in roads, highways and rails to that of the rest of the world: "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."
Speaking after the president's remarks, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expressed confidence in the proposal, emphasizing that the traditionally broad support for infrastructure. "There are no Democratic or Republican bridges or roads," he said. Yet in recent months the subject has become increasingly partisan, with Republicans skeptical of any increased government spending as well as the overall effects of the Recovery Act on job creation.
Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced plans to end
a planned New York-New Jersey tunnel, citing overwhelming cost to taxpayers. LaHood remained confident that Christie, a Republican, might reconsider, saying "I believe he will listen to a number of options."
To critics questioning the number of jobs created by the Recovery Act, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell cited the 8,600 stimulus-funded projects in his state, while Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter pointed the finger squarely at the press, saying the media simply needed to "get out there" where "real people" were being put to work.