America's roads, bridges and ports are falling apart and the federal government is running out of money to fix them, President Barack Obama said Wednesday, speaking in front of a crumbling bridge outside New York City in an attempt to pressure Congress to pump a cash infusion into the nation's deteriorating infrastructure.
Obama was delivering a speech at the Tappan Zee Bridge, a major Hudson River crossing point in dire need of replacement nearly six decades after being built. In addition to calling on lawmakers to back the $302 billion transportation plan his administration has proposed, Obama will promote efforts to cut red tape and delays in issuing permits for new infrastructure projects, the White House said.
While in New York, Obama was also set to headline a pair of high-dollar fundraisers for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections. He and first lady Michelle Obama planned to spend the night in Manhattan before attending the dedication ceremony Thursday for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.
Obama's New York jaunt forms the apex of a weeklong attempt by the White House to focus the nation's attention on what the administration describes as a looming crisis that, left unfixed, could stifle economic growth and torment the nation's commuters.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx kicked off the week on Monday, warning that the Highway Trust Fund, which relies on gasoline taxes that have not been raised in 20 years, could run dry in August. Vice President Joe Biden added his voice on Tuesday, telling local leaders in St. Louis that "we've stalled" on infrastructure, as he promoted a $410 million renovation to the famous Gateway Arch. It is being funded largely by donations.
Obama on Wednesday announced modest steps to modernize issuing permits for infrastructure projects, with a view toward shortening the process. Obama's plan seeks to improve coordination among agencies so projects do not have to wait for multiple, consecutive reviews, the White House said. Obama also plans to expand an online permitting "dashboard" to include more projects.
The setting for Obama's call to action, the 3-mile-long Tappan Zee Bridge, is being replaced by a new bridge at a cost of $3.9 billion, financed largely by bonds paid for through higher bridge tolls.
The Obama administration has proposed a four-year, $302 billion transportation plan. Of that amount, half would be in addition to the programs paid for with fuel taxes. That additional spending would come from revenue raised by closing corporate tax loopholes and by making other changes in business taxes, a longshot idea in a politically divided Congress.
The Associated Press