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Obama Wants $50B To Expand Infrastructure

While in Milwaukee this past Sunday, President Barack Obama announced a plan to expand and renew roads, railways and runways

While in Milwaukee this past Sunday, President Barack Obama announced a plan to expand and renew roads, railways and runways. The plan calls for a quick $50 billion jolt of federal money, but will require Congress to make the money available.

The administration says this proposal is among a set of targeted initiatives that the president will outline in Cleveland on Wednesday to support economic recovery and ensure long-term sustainable growth. The plan builds upon the infrastructure investments already made through the Recovery Act.

Critical to the plan is reauthorizing a long-term transportation bill and frontloading $50 billion in the first year to spark job growth. The problems here are that Congress has been unable to move a reauthorization bill since the last one expired at the end of September 2009, and there's very little time left before the November elections. The biggest stumbling blocks have been partisan fighting and how to pay for transportation spending.

The administration says the $50 billion can be paid for by eliminating tax breaks and subsidies to oil and gas companies, the New York Times reports. The administration says the $50 billion would pay for 150,000 miles of road, 4,000 miles of rail track and 150 miles of runways.
The president is asking Congress to establish an Infrastructure Bank to leverage federal dollars and focus on investments of national and regional significance that often fall through the cracks in the current siloed transportation programs.

This marks an important departure from the federal governmentís traditional way of spending on infrastructure through earmarks and formula-based grants that are allocated more by geography and politics than demonstrated value, the administration says. Instead, the bank will base its investment decisions on clear analytical measures of performance, comparing projects against each other to determine which will produce the greatest return.

Obama's plan would invest some of that $50 billion in bus and rail. Many parts of transit systems have been allowed to fall into a state of ill-repair. The administration says it would expand the public transit systems and dedicate significant new funding to the New Starts program, which supports locally planned, implemented, and operated major transit projects. The administration continued its call for investing in high-speed rail. The presidentís plan also would invest in a long-overdue overhaul of Amtrakís fleet.

The administration also proposes to invest in improving airport runways and other equipment and facilities. This includes investing to modernize the air traffic control system, known as NextGen.
"The solution Ö requires that we have a dedicated source of funding and an increase in federal leadership to actually put it into use," says Patrick J. Natale, Amercian Society of Civil Engineers executive director. "The president's new investment plan has the potential to be a real part of such a solution. We applaud him for taking a leadership position, and we encourage Congress to work with the administration on this critical national issue. We also look forward to learning more about the details of the plan, in particular, whether or not it will be paid for by the users, as has successfully been done since the beginning of the interstate system in the 1950s."