As the presidential race heats up, top contenders have sketched out ideas for rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. The talk heartens construction officials. Matt Jeanneret, American Road and Transportation Builders Association senior vice president for communications and marketing, says candidates “are talking about the conditions of the nation’s infrastructure network in a way that has not been the case in previous presidential elections, and we view that as a positive development.”

What the Candidates Propose
Clinton Establishing a $10-billion emergency repair fund for structurally deficient bridges over 10 years.

Obama Investing $60 billion over 10 years through a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank.

McCain Opposes earmarks and legislative “pork” and calls for responsibility in funding infrastructure.

The other top Democratic contender, Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), in August proposed a $10-billion emergency fund for deficient bridges. She would provide states with $250 million for immediate safety reviews of priority, high-risk infrastructure.

Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) has not announced a public works plan. In fact, he has long lambasted earmarks and “pork” projects and was one of only four senators to vote against 2005’s SAFETEA-LU highway and transit measure.

McCain did back airport grants when he chaired the commerce committee. Moreover, last September, he said the Minnesota bridge collapse “was a harsh reminder of just how critical our responsibilities are to balance competing transportation funding needs. But we simply must do so in a fiscally responsible manner.” Jeff Shoaf, Associated General Contractors’ senior executive director for government and public affairs, says McCain has been in favor of the highway program and its goals, “but he feels like the program has gotten away from its core message, I think.”

Shoaf is pleased to hear candidates discuss infrastructure but says the proposals so far are too modest. For example, he calls Obama’s $6-billion-a-year plan “a good start,” but adds that with transportation spending now nearing $50 billion a year, it would “be a sort of drop in the bucket.”

Among leading Democratic candidates, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) on Feb. 13 proposed a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, which he says would pour $60 billion over 10 years into roads and other projects, creating nearly 2 million jobs, many of them in construction.