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President Addresses Immediate Need to Extend Surface Transportation Law

President Obama, speaking in the Rose Garden, called on Congress to extend the surface transportation law (SAFETEA-LU). The law, set to expire Sept. 30, also authorizes collection of the federal 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax. Standing alongside him was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood; Richard Trumka, the president of AFL-CIO, who is a member of the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness; the COO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, David Chaverin; and some construction workers who would be affected if Congress fails to act.

In his remarks, Obama urged Congress to act immediately to pass a clean extension of SAFETEA-LU and, following that, on some kind of long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill. If the bill expires, Obama says, more than 4,000 workers will be furloughed immediately. Over a year, 1 million workers could lose their jobs, he said. He reminded his audience in the Rose Garden that his plea to Congress to extend the transportation bill is not unlike a recent battle over an aviation bill.

President Obama pointed out that as a nation we invest half as much in our infrastructure as we did 50 years ago. He called on federal agencies to identify priority projects for which project reviews could be expedited without hindering safety or the environment.

Obama also asked Congress to extend the FAA bill. “It's time to stop the political gamesmanship that can actually cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs,” he said. Also, “It is time to put our country before party,” when it comes to infrastructure investment. He went on to further emphasize the point that Congress should extend the bills as soon as they come back from recess and stated that he intends to propose reforms in the way that transportation money is invested.

Obama’s call for a clean extension of the surface transportation bill comes less than a month after congressional Republicans and Democrats ended a standoff over aviation funding that temporarily displaced thousands of federal and construction workers. He also plans to announce next week a package of proposals to spur job creation and improve the economy.

According to the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA), President Obama’s comments suggest that he has heard the collective voice of the association’s grassroots and those of other transportation interests over the past months. NSSGA will continue to proactively advocate for action on a multi-year surface transportation reauthorization at level funding.

Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) President Dennis Slater issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s comments on the highway bill:

“Infrastructure investment is a critical job creator. Roads, highways and bridges aren’t funded or built a few months at a time. These critical projects require long-term planning. Extending a clean highway bill, as President Obama today called on Congress to do, provides America’s equipment manufacturers with the certainty they need to hire, contractors with the certainty they need to make capital investments in new equipment and employees, and the U.S economy with a badly needed growth engine. Failure to extend the highway bill would further endanger the already tenuous economic recovery America’s manufacturers are working so hard to strengthen. Rebuilding and modernizing our public infrastructure is a safety, economic and competitiveness issue that Congress has a serious responsibility to address.”

American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) Chairman Bill Cox, president of Annapolis-Junction, Md.-based Corman Construction, represented the association at the White House event.

“We share President Obama’s view that members of Congress should pass a clean extension of the highway and transit programs and we urge them to do so well in advance of the September 30 expiration date,” Cox said. “Taking such action will allow them to focus on the real issue at hand: passage of the nearly two-year delayed highway and transit reauthorization bill.

“Boosting highway and transit investment in a multi-year surface transportation bill will help remove the uncertainty that has been plaguing the transportation construction market, create and support American jobs, and build long-term capital assets that will benefit taxpayers for years to come,” Cox said.

“We appreciate President Obama's support for transportation investments and look forward to continuing to work with Congress on addressing the country's urgent transportation challenges,” said John Horsley, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials executive director.