by Dave Zornow
Tarrytown, May 14 — President Barack Obama came to Tarrytown and invoked the names of three Republican presidents to urge Congress to support his infrastructure spending plan. Posing in front of the new Tappan Zee Bridge construction site, the Democratic president admitted that his favorite former chief executive was a GOP leader. “My favorite president happens to have been a Republican — a guy named Abraham Lincoln in my home state of Illinois.” Obama cited the transcontinental railroad started by Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s creation of the Interstate Highway System as historical examples to which the country should aspire because “rebuilding America shouldn’t be a partisan issue.” Noting that it was Ronald Reagan who said, ‘an investment in tomorrow that we must make today,’ Obama quipped, “since when are the Republicans in Congress against Ronald Reagan?”
The president made his case for investing in roads, bridges, tunnels and airports with only a few months remaining before the Highway Trust Fund is exhausted. The White House says that the fund supports 112,000 active projects and employs 700,000 people. “If [Congress doesn't] act by the end of the summer, federal funding for transportation projects will run out. There will be no money. The cupboard will be bare.” The 700,000 jobs that could potentially be lost are equivalent to the combined population of Tampa and St. Louis.
Construction projects fixed dilapidated roads and bridges and pumped money back into economy during the economic recovery. “Over the past five years, American workers have repaired or replaced more than 20,000 bridges and improved more than 350,000 miles of American roads,” he said. “Four years ago, when we were just starting to clear away the damage from the financial crisis, the unemployment rate for construction workers…was over 20 percent. Today, we’ve cut it by more than half.”
Citing America’s 19th place ranking in terms of infrastructure quality, Obama noted that Europe spends twice as much as the US on infrastructure and China spends four times more than we do on transportation. That neglect is beginning to show: 65% of the major roads in the US are rated in less than good condition, according to WhiteHouse.gov.
Despite choosing the biggest construction project in the country for his address, Obama didn’t say much about the Tappan Zee Bridge — other than to make fun of its new name. “It’s called The ‘New’ New York Bridge — which is fine as a name, but for your next bridge you should come up with something a little more fresh.” Obama said the longest bridge in New York was long past its prime and needed to be replaced. “It carries a lot more traffic than when it was built back in 1955. At times, you can see the river through the cracks in the pavement. Now, I’m not an engineer, but I figure that’s not good.”
The Grow America Act, the administration’s four year, $302 billion plan to increase federal transportation spending by 37%, isn’t getting the support it needs to pass, as legislators are distracted by the fall mid-term elections.
The president called on Congress to move past gridlock and support his infrastructure initiatives. “We’ve gotten so partisan, everything is becoming political. It’s time for folks to stop running around saying what’s wrong with America; roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work and help America rebuild.” And he re-purposed his original presidential campaign slogan when he urged Congress to act. “A great nation does these things. A great nation doesn’t say No, We Can’t. It says Yes, We Can.”
You can read the full text of President Obama’s May 14 speech at the Tappan Zee Bridge at WhiteHouse.gov.