Obama Calls Attention to Aging Infrastructure

Tappan Zee Bridge. Photo by Laura Glickstein

President Obama is visiting the Tappan Zee Bridge, 25 miles north of Midtown Manhattan, on Wednesday to raise awareness of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The message is that funding for projects such as roads and bridges is to expire this fall.

The president’s speech will highlight the need for congressional action on infrastructure spending, the White House announced on Saturday. Obama will use his visit to the bridge site, where work is underway on pilings for a new bridge, to highlight the urgency of replenishing the Highway Trust Fund. The administration predicts the fund will be insolvent by the end of the summer.

Refurbishing the infrastructure is critical, as the American Society of Civil Engineers grades for U.S. infrastructure systems are low. Last fall the organization gave road and transit systems a D, bridges a C+, and levees a D-.

According to The White House Blog funding for infrastructure impacts more than 112,000 active projects to pave roads and build bridges, and about 5,600 projects to improve the country’s transit systems. This doesn’t include almost 700,000 jobs supported by these projects.

The White House plans several infrastructure-themed events, which began with the release of a report on Monday that lays out its argument for infrastructure investment and the ensuing funding crisis if Congress fails to act.

While construction is underway to replace the 58-year-old Tappan Zee Bridge, a $3.9 billion project recently approved for a $1.6 billion federal loan—the largest loan ever awarded under the Transportation Infrastructure and Innovation Act (TIFIA)—the administration is warning that other projects could be halted, slowed or not began in the coming months.

“We have reports that many states are already rethinking their investment plans due to the uncertainty,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told a Senate committee last week. Foxx pointed out that one-in-four bridges either needs significant repair or cannot handle current traffic, and that 65% of the nation’s roads are not adequate.

Foxx told the Senate that the administration is open to a variety of possibilities for raising new revenue to finance the Highway Trust Fund. The administration has proposed a one-time infusion of $150 billion into the fund, using revenue generated by corporate tax reform. The proposal, called the GROW AMERICA Act would provide $302 billion over four years for highways, bridges, transit, and rail systems, according to the blog.

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