State of the Union Touts Infrastructure

President Barack Obama delivered the first State of the Union Address of his second term, Feb. 12, and once again proposed new initiatives to boost spending for the nation’s infrastructure.

“America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair,” Obama said. “Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America ­– a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina ­– has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.

“Tonight, I propose a Fix-It-First program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country,” Obama continued. “And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away.”

“Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector,” Obama added. “Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007. Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.”

According to the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA), this marks the fifth time in as many speeches to Congress that the president has at least made a passing reference to the need to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure. The stimulus package of 2009 was the focus of his first two addresses, while “roads and bridges” were mentioned in 2011 and 2012 as part of the need to keep up with other nations. Unfortunately, the president failed to provide a broad plan with a clear proposal for a new sustainable revenue stream that will keep the Highway Trust Fund viable into the future.

American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President and CEO Pete Ruane released the following statement regarding the State of the Union address:

“We appreciate President Obama continuing to highlight the link between a strong, properly functioning transportation infrastructure network and economic competitiveness. His call for increased investment in roads, bridges and transit systems has been echoed repeatedly by scores of congressional leaders from both parties, the nation’s governors, and state and local transportation officials. Everyone is in agreement. So let’s use the opportunity at hand to start developing real solutions to address America’s infrastructure deficit.

“An overwhelming majority of Congress voted last year to support final passage of the highway and transit bill, MAP-21,” Ruane continued. “The law’s program consolidation, meaningful policy reforms and accountability provisions provide the foundation for building a much broader infrastructure investment package. MAP-21, however, only provided enough financial resources to maintain highway and transit investment at current levels for two years; a scenario that does nothing to reduce the increasing economic costs and personal toll from worsening traffic congestion.

“Generating significant new revenues to complement to MAP-21’s reforms would spur economic growth and job creation, and improve the efficiency of the nation’s transportation network,” Ruane concluded. “We stand ready to work with the President and members of Congress from both parties to achieve these goals.”

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) also backed the president’s call for more infrastructure spending.

“AASHTO salutes President Obama for again calling for greater investment in America’s infrastructure. Now we need to work together to tackle the most pressing issue facing our transportation system ­– how are we going to pay for it,” said Bud Wright, AASHTO’s executive director.

According to NSSGA, on the heels of the president’s speech, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will kick off the 113th Congress with its first hearing on “The Federal Role in America’s Infrastructure.” Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is looking to set the stage of his tenure in the top spot by highlighting the constitutional responsibility of the federal government in financing, building and maintaining the nation’s infrastructure in order to foster economic growth and global competitiveness. Invited to testify before the committee are: U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donahue; Building America’s Future Co-Chair and former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell; and Laborer’s International Union of North America General President Terry O’Sullivan.