Obama Says Deteriorating Infrastructure Costly to Economy

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama. Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama said the deterioration of the nation’s highways, bridges, airports and ports is costly to U.S. business and threatens future economic growth.

Obama traveled to the banks of the Potomac River in Washington and an aging landmark bridge in need of repair to prod Congress to act on a provision of his jobs plan to put $60 billion into infrastructure repairs. He also announced plans to speed up grants and funding for surface transportation projects.

Aging infrastructure costs businesses and families $130 billion a year, Obama said. “You’re paying already for these substandard bridges,” he said. Fixing them would “save money in the long run.”

Obama, who faces voters next year in an election that largely will turn on the state of the economy, is undertaking a public campaign that has included trips to battleground states and interviews with local television stations from Tampa, Florida, to Portland, Oregon. The administration argues that spending on infrastructure will make needed repairs to the nation’s roads and bridges while also helping ease the 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

“Of all the industries hammered by the economic downturn, construction has been hardest hit,” Obama said in Washington. “It makes absolutely no sense when there’s so much work to be done that they’re not doing the work.”

Aging Bridge

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, a concrete arch structure over the Potomac completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1923, links northern Virginia with Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood.

The bridge, about two miles from the White House and named after the author of the Star Spangled Banner, is Washington’s oldest surviving span across the Potomac, according to the National Register of Historic Places. About 70,000 bridges across the country are deficient and in need of repair, according to the policy group Transportation for America.

Repairing every deficient bridge in the U.S. would cost about $140 billion, the Federal Highway Administration said in 2006.

Republicans, joined by some Democrats, have refused to pass the $447 billion jobs package Obama proposed on Sept. 8, so he’s urging lawmakers to break it into smaller pieces in a bid for bipartisan support.

Criticism of Republicans

Obama criticized the Republican-controlled House for not acting on his proposals and instead taking up ceremonial or symbolic legislation, such as a non-binding resolution passed yesterday affirming the national motto as “In God We Trust.”

“That’s not putting people back to work,” Obama said. “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.”

The infrastructure bill as drafted by Senate Democrats includes $10 billion to create a national “infrastructure bank” to leverage private and public capital for various projects. The other $50 billion would directly fund projects that also include rail and transit projects.

At the Capitol, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined Democratic senators advocating passage of the bill, which isn’t likely to get enough votes to advance when it comes up tomorrow morning.

LaHood dismissed a cost estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, released late yesterday, that said the legislation probably would result in just $4.3 billion being spent for construction projects this fiscal year. Most of the money wouldn’t be spent to create jobs until 2013-2015, according to the CBO, an analysis highlighted by Republicans.

Spending the Money

“The idea that we can spend only $4 billion is nonsense,” LaHood said. “At DOT, we know how to put people to work. All we need is for Congress to give us the money.”

Democrats propose to finance the program with a 0.7 percent surtax on individuals with incomes of $1 million or more, drawing Republican objections.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader in the chamber, predicted that legislation will fail. Even so, McConnell said that Republicans are open to increased spending on roads and other infrastructure, because it’s “pretty important and pretty bipartisan.”

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