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Plan for $50B of Funding Garners Some High Praise

Transportation stakeholders are divided this week on a renewed push by President Obama for Congress to provide $50 billion of funding and the release of a report by the Treasury Department and Council of Economic Advisers that stresses the economic risk of not spending more on infrastructure.

Obama on Monday called on lawmakers to work with the White House on a plan to front-load a multi-year transportation bill with $50 billion of road, rail, and aviation spending.

The proposal would create a national infrastructure bank to leverage private capital, consolidate the more than 100 federal programs that deal with transportation, and make funding decisions based on merit instead of earmarks.

In support of his push for more spending, the president on Monday cited the “tens of thousands” of road, water, sewer, and electric projects that have created or supported “hundreds of thousands” of jobs since the stimulus law was enacted last year.

The administration released a report the same day providing support for its argument for spending more on infrastructure. The report — mostly a discussion of previous research by industry groups, experts and scholars, and think tanks — said that economic growth in the U.S. is slowed by aging infrastructure.

“Our roads, clogged with traffic, cost us $80 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel. Our airports, choked with passengers, cost nearly $10 billion a year in productivity losses from flight delays,” Obama said. He citd the often-repeated statistic that American infrastructure spending is a fraction of Russia’s and China’s.

The report said that unless the U.S. ramps up spending, it could lose global competitiveness.

It cited the Progressive Policy Institute’s finding that the U.S. spends 2% of its gross domestic product on infrastructure, while China and Europe spend about 9% and 5%, respectively.

The speech followed a meeting between Obama and stakeholders including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Following the speech, state officials praised the administration’s call for bipartisan support of the plan.

“The analysis we’ve done shows the investments made possible through the [stimulus law] will be wrapping up next year,” said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“Unless there is an initiative like the president’s to continue investment in transportation, you will see 300,000 construction-related jobs lost by the end of next year.”

But the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica of Florida, criticized the president’s plan and the report.

“Unfortunately, this last-minute report is a pitiful and tardy political excuse,” he said, following the administration’s effort last year to postpone a new multi-year transportation bill until after November’s elections.

A multi-year bill would have created the jobs that the administration wants to create now through its $50 billion plan, Mica said in an interview Tuesday.

“I remain committed and ready to talk, work, and take action with these folks when they return to planet Earth with both feet on the ground,” he added.

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