Obama seeks to open $50 billion Infrastructure Bank

roads.jpgWe’ve heard the talk before. The Infrastructure Bank. It’s been on the back burner for a little while as President Obama and Congress have tried to navigate us out of the financial malaise we’ve been in.

obama.jpgNow, it’s time has come. Obama, speaking before organized labor and supporters at LaborFest in Milwaukee yesterday in honor of Labor Day, is proposing to fund the Infrastructure Bank with $50 billion to build new highways, high-speed rail, and runways to improve our flying experience.

“So, that’s why, Milwaukee, today, I am announcing a new plan for rebuilding and modernizing America’s roads and rails and runways for the long term,” Obama said. “I want America to have the best infrastructure in the world. We used to have the best infrastructure in the world. We can have it again. We are going to make it happen.”

Obama plans to push ahead with the plan, regardless of Republican opposition. We need jobs to get this economy moving. We need businesses to start investing to create those jobs. Frankly, we probably need this kind of boost to our nation’s infrastructure.

“We are highly supportive of President Obama's proposal to immediately invest $50 billion to rebuild roads, expand high-speed rail, and rehabilitate airport runways,” said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). “We have demonstrated that investing in transportation infrastructure is one of the fastest ways to create and sustain jobs. An AASHTO January 2010 survey of states showed 9,800 ready-to-go projects valued at nearly $80 billion. If Congress wants to pass legislation investing in our transportation infrastructure, the states stand ready to put those dollars to work.”

"> According to Obama, the plan would help rebuild 150,000 miles of roads, build and maintain 4,000 miles of railways, and restore 150 miles of runways as we ready the nation for the next generation of air-traffic control systems.

“This is a plan that will be fully paid for,” Obama said. “It will not add to the deficit over time – we’re going to work with Congress to see to that. We want to set up an Infrastructure Bank to leverage federal dollars and focus on the smartest investments. We’re going to continue our strategy to build a national high-speed rail network that reduces congestion and travel times and reduces harmful emissions. We want to cut waste and bureaucracy and consolidate and collapse more than 100 different programs that too often duplicate each other. So we want to change the way Washington spends your tax dollars. We want to reform a haphazard, patchwork way of doing business. We want to focus on less wasteful approaches than we’ve got right now. We want competition and innovation that gives us the best bang for the buck.”

The concept of an Infrastructure Bank, proponents say, would speed transportation-related projects and ensure adequate funding.

The Bank would have the ability to leverage tax dollars with private funding options through the use grants, credit assistance, low-interest loans and tax incentives. But, perhaps just as importantly, the projects would be approved based on merit, rather than on whose district the work would occur in.

“In this era of constrained finances and mounting needs on a national scale, the Infrastructure Bank would spur innovation in funding large-scale transportation projects critical to job creation and to our future economy,” James Corless, director of Transportation for America, told Fleet Owner back in January when the idea was broached. “Because projects would compete based on merit, it would help to select the investments that do the most to advance our national goals, whatever the mode: rail, highway, ports or public transportation.”

Will this help create jobs? I think so. Is it the right thing to do? That’s debatable. But at the end of the day, this recession has changed people’s spending habits. The average American no longer takes their paycheck each week – and then some – and makes big purchases. People are saving, not unlike what happened following the Great Depression. The only way that Americans are going to jump back to spending is if incomes go up, people go back to work, and hope emerges.

Maybe this is what we need to generate that hope.

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