The Obama administration gave more details today about the president’s plan to invest in infrastructure and create jobs. The president scheduled interviews with television stations in eight markets in an attempt to ensure that Republicans in the Congress take the blame for job losses if no agreement is reached before $85 billion in automatic spending cuts take effect in nine days.
The president’s “Fix It First” plan, which he sketched out in his State of the Union address, will immediately invest $50 billion in the nation’s transportation infrastructure, with $40 billion targeted to reducing the backlog of deferred maintenance and focused on fixing our highways, bridges, transit systems and airports most in need of repair.
The president’s “Rebuild America Partnership” will partner federal, state and local governments with businesses and private capital to provide America with the best transportation, electric, water and communications networks in the world.
The third leg of the Obama program focuses on cutting red tape. The president’s plan will cut timelines in half for infrastructure projects and create incentives for better outcomes for communities and the environment through a historic modernization of agency permitting and review regulations, procedures and policies.
“The national transportation system faces an immense backlog of state-of-good-repair projects,” the White House said in a statement, “a reality underscored by the fact that there are nearly 70,000 ‘structurally deficient’ bridges in the country today.”
The president’s plan could bring almost 80% of those structurally deficient bridges up to date, according to the White House statement.
The “Rebuild America Partnership” would include creating a National Infrastructure Bank with the ability to leverage private and public capital to support infrastructure projects of national and regional significance. It also would create an America Fast Forward (AFF) bonds program, designed to build upon the successful example of the Build America Bonds program. The partnership also would expand the successful TIFIA program—which provides direct loans, loan guarantees and lines of credit to regionally or nationally significant transportation projects. According to the White House, the program highlights the important role that infrastructure financing can play in catalyzing private investment.
The effort to reduce red tape will bring federal permitting and review procedures into the 21st century, said the White House, through expanded use of integrated planning, landscape and watershed-level mitigation, information technology and publication of public timelines for permitting and review decisions to improve transparency and predictability.
“President Obama is right to continue to focus on the nation’s significant, and growing, infrastructure needs,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, in a response. “As he noted in his State of the Union address, the condition of many of the nation’s aging bridges, highways and other essential infrastructure is unacceptably poor. And he is absolutely right to point out the need to identify additional sources of revenue for transportation investments, including from the private sector.”
Sandherr added that he hoped the Obama administration also would address the challenges to long-term funding of the country’s transportation program. “Instead of just focusing on one-time investments, we need to address an estimated $76 billion in federal transportation funding shortfalls projected during the next six years.”