Obama Touts Talking Cars in Push for U.S. Highway Relief

President Barack Obama, championing spending on transportation projects, highlighted government-backed research on technology being developed by companies including Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. to allow cars to communicate with each other.

For the second straight day, Obama sought to keep pressure on Congress to shore up the U.S. Highway Trust Fund. The administration yesterday said it supports a Republican proposal in the House, which the chamber approved today by a vote of 367-55, to fund highway projects through May 2015, while saying a long-term fix is still needed.

The administration is portraying transportation funding as critical to sustaining U.S. economic growth. With U.S. unemployment hovering above 6 percent, Obama has said fixing the nation’s roads and bridges will support thousands of jobs and stem a deterioration of infrastructure that adds billions of extra costs to consumers and businesses.

“Americans spend 5.5 billion hours stuck in traffic each year, which costs us $120 billion in wasted time and gas,” Obama said at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Virginia. “First-class infrastructure attracts first-class jobs,” he said.

Today’s event focused on technology to ease congestion and avoid collisions. Obama viewed work on a system which enables cars to “talk” with each other to avoid collisions and regulate traffic flow. U.S. transportation regulators have called it the next leap in driving safety. Highway crashes kill more than 30,000 people annually in the U.S.

Simulator Drive

Obama got behind the wheel of a simulator that demonstrated the technology.

“As the father of a daughter who just turned 16, any new technology that makes driving safer is important to me,” he said.

The administration projects the trust fund, supplied by the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, would run short of money as early as next month. U.S. fuel taxes have stayed the same since 1993, meaning purchasing power has decreased.

With raising the fuel tax politically unpopular, lawmakers have turned to increased customs fees, changes to pensions that lower companies’ short-term contributions, and revenue from a leaking underground storage tank fund to pay for transportation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that his chamber will vote on the House bill this month, alongside a competing Senate version that doesn’t have as much support. The legislation is on track to arrive on Obama’s desk before payments from the fund to states begin to slow Aug. 1.

Lawmakers haven’t acted on Obama’s proposed a four-year, $302 billion plan, where about half the funding would come from an increase in the federal excise tax on motor fuels and the rest from revenue obtained by closing tax breaks for corporations, including taxing overseas earnings.

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