The Tappan Zee Bridge in New York was the backdrop Wednesday for a speech by President Obama about the need for America to reinvest in its aging infrastructure
and make the nation more economically competitive. During his speech in Tarrytown, N.Y., Obama accused Republicans in Congress of trying to cut spending for transportation system upgrades and said his $302 billion plan released last month, funded in part by a one-time infusion of revenue from corporate tax reforms, would help fix crumbling highways and bridges, and put people to work.
"We’ve got ports that aren’t ready for the next generation of cargo ships. We’ve got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare. We’ve got leaky pipes that lose billions of gallons of drinking water every single day, even as we’ve got a severe drought in much of the West. Nearly half our people don’t have access to transit at all. And I don’t have to tell you what some of our airports look like," Obama said about the task ahead.
The current two-year surface transportation legislation expires at the end of September, and money for highways upgraded by the states will run out without Congressional action. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will vote today on its version of a reauthorization bill.
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the nation's deteriorating surface transportation infrastructure will cost the U.S. economy more than 876,000 jobs and suppress GDP growth by $897 billion in 2020.
The heavily traveled Tappan Zee, located on the Hudson River 20 miles north of New York City, was built in 1955 and is traversed by about 138,000 vehicles per day. Its replacement is estimated to cost $3.6 billion.
Obama said the importance of new infrastructure that can serve as the foundation for business and job growth in the 21st century is why his administration fast-tracked the permitting process for 50 projects of regional or national significance, including the Tappan Zee, two years ago.
Federal agencies completed their reviews in 1.5 years instead of the normal three to five years by creating a task force to coordinate reviews, setting more aggressive targets, and conducting reviews concurrently rather than sequentially. Agencies particularly involved in integrated reviews are the Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The president announced a plan to apply the expedited-review strategy to 11 more major projects, including the Pensacola Bridge and light-rail projects in Seattle. Among the reforms are the launch of a new national permitting center and the decision to place every major infrastructure project on an online dashboard for the public to track the government's progress and if it is efficiently spending taxpayer dollars.
America is losing ground to other countries that are investing heavily in infrastructure, Obama warned.
"Building a world-class transportation system is one of the reasons America became an economic superpower in the first place. But over the past 50 years, as a share of our economy, our investment in transportation has shrunk by 50 percent," he said.
"European countries now invest twice as much as we do. China invests four times as much as we do in transportation. One study recently found that over time, we’ve fallen to 19th place when it comes to the quality of our infrastructure — 19th place. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like America being 19th. I don’t like America being second. I want us to be first when it comes to infrastructure around the world, because businesses are going to come where there’s good infrastructure to move businesses, move people, move services.
"We shouldn’t watch the top-rated airports and seaports or the fastest rail lines or fastest Internet networks get built somewhere else — they need to be built right here in New York, right here in the United States. First-class infrastructure attracts first-class jobs. Business owners don’t want a crumbling road or a bridge because then they can’t move out their stuff, and their workers aren’t as productive because it’s harder for them to get to work. They want to set up shop where there’s high-speed rail and high-speed broadband, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids, new ports, tunnels. That allows them, when they make goods here in America, to move those goods out and sell them all around the world," Obama said.