By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor
It?s been years since a president used a State of the Union platform to call for infrastructure investment. During his speech Tuesday, Jan. 25, President Obama touted infrastructure investment as a top priority for rebuilding America.
?Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped,? Obama said, referencing the infrastructure boon in Europe and parts of Asia including China. ?Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation?s infrastructure, they gave us a ?D.? We have to do better.?
With an emphasis on high-speed rail and high-speed Internet, the portion of the speech dedicated to infrastructure also included a nod to roadway and bridge investments as way to improve the economy.
?We?ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We?ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what?s best for the economy, not politicians,? he said.
OOIDA Government Affairs Counsel Laura O?Neill had the opportunity to attend the State of the Union speech as part of the gallery.
?It was an honor to be there, representing small-business truckers and OOIDA,? O?Neill said. ?Of course we didn?t have a voice, but we were represented.?
O?Neill said the infrastructure discussion is encouraging to anyone with an interest in the future of transportation, although the president?s remarks were quite broad.
?In essence, he talked more about transportation on this occasion than I?ve heard any president discuss in recent years,? she said. ?Based on his words alone, it?s incredibly encouraging that he took part of his speech to discuss what is needed for infrastructure improvement in this country.
?He acknowledged that our roads and highways are in deplorable condition and also made the connection that by improving them, we can create jobs. This is a new tune for the administration so to speak because for the past few years they?ve ignored the need for transportation and infrastructure.?
O?Neill said that at the same time he touted infrastructure investment, the president also called for spending freezes in Washington and said he would veto any bill that contains earmarks. That could present problems for lawmakers crafting a new surface transportation authorization bill in Congress who rely on earmarking to fund certain projects.
?How this actually gets accomplished will be the interesting thing,? she said. ?It sounded like he was calling for a reauthorization bill, but he didn?t say that,? O?Neill said. ?What he is thinking is going to be interesting and we look forward to hearing that. How you fund a bill is going to be a significant problem.?
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said she and ranking committee Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma are currently working on drafting the Senate version of a surface transportation authorization bill.
?We need roads, bridges, high-speed rail and other infrastructure that transport people and goods efficiently in order to move our country forward,? Boxer said.
Inhofe added, ?The chairman and I share a very strong belief in federal infrastructure spending and the need for a robust multiyear highway bill.?
On the House side, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-FL, will head up the team drafting the House version of a highway bill.
?After the Administration derailed a major six-year transportation bill in 2009, it is encouraging that they are now on board with getting infrastructure projects and jobs moving again,? Mica said in a statement.
?However, just another proposal to spend more of the taxpayers? money, when we have billions of dollars sitting idle tied up in government red tape, will never get our economic car out of the ditch. We?ve got to do more with less to improve our infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner.?
House T&I Committee ranking Democrat Nick Rahall of Virginia issued a statement of support for the president?s remarks on infrastructure.
?America can continue to lead the worldwide economy and win the future, but we must at least invest as much in ourselves as our competitor nations are investing in their own futures,? Rahall said.
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