President Obama continues to stump for transportation infrastructure. In remarks on Oct. 11, he repeated his call for higher federal spending to rebuild highways, rails and airport runways. Construction officials welcome Obama’s attention to public works, though they still seek more details, including how much total spending he wants. But the White House is not likely to provide many specifics before 2011, when a new Congress convenes.

Obama, with current and former Cabinet officials, governors and a mayor, calls for increased transportation infrastructure spending.
Photo: AP/WideWorld
Obama, with current and former Cabinet officials, governors and a mayor, calls for increased transportation infrastructure spending.

Obama said, “Our infrastructure is woefully inefficient, and it is outdated.” Noting that the U.S. spends less on public works than China, Russia and other countries, he declared, “We can no longer afford to sit still.” His remarks followed a meeting on infrastructure with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Govs. Edward Rendell (D-Pa.) and Jack Markell (D-Del.), former Transportation Secretaries Norman Mineta and Samuel Skinner, and eight mayors.

The White House released a Treasury Dept. and Council of Economic Advisers report on the benefits of increased public-works spending. It contends, “Now is the optimal time to increase the nation’s investment in transportation infrastructure.” The report says funds would produce jobs at a time of high unemployment, could capitalize on low construction costs and fill in some of the gap left by cuts in state and local governments’ transportation spending.

Pam Whitted, the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association vice president for government affairs, is pleased to see the President’s focus on transportation funding. Whitted says, “He’s definitely making it a priority and putting it on the front burner”—something that, she notes, industry has been seeking for months.

But industry officials say Obama’s comments lacked specifics. He has proposed a $50-billion infusion to launch a six-year transport bill, but that bill, and its total price tag, won’t be unveiled until 2011. Meanwhile, according to Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors’ highway and transportation division, the White House’s Oct. 11 speech is partly “just trying to show some kind of plan for addressing the jobs situation in the next two years of the administration.”

But the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s top Republican, John Mica (Fla.), slammed the new White House report as “a pitiful and tardy political excuse for the administration having killed last year any chance for a long-term transportation measure.” He was referring to the White House’s failure to back a transport bill the committee’s leaders proposed in 2009.