WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama pressed for a $50 billion payment on a six-year, $500 billion plan to update the nation’s roads, rails and airports to create jobs and avoid falling behind on the world stage.
“Our infrastructure is woefully inefficient and it is outdated,” Obama said Monday in the Rose Garden. He said the country’s “aging” transportation system was hindering economic growth.
Obama delivered the remarks after meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former Transportation Secretaries Sam Skinner and Norm Mineta, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other mayors and governors as well as economists and engineers to talk about implementing his six-year infrastructure plan.
Obama first announced the plan on Labor Day.
Road traffic costs the country $80 billion per year in lost productivity and wasted fuel and airport delays cost $10 billion in productivity per year, Obama said. The average American household spends more per year on transportation than food, he said, and the United States spends less than half of the percentage of its GDP on infrastructure than Russia and less than a third of Western Europe.
Meanwhile, China is building dozens of airports in the next decade and may take on 170 mass transit projects in the next 20 years, Obama said.
“There is no reason why the world’s best infrastructure should lie beyond our borders,” he said.
Obama called for a system that creates, “sustainable communities with easier access to our jobs, to our schools, to our homes.”
He said stimulus funds were already going toward building a secure electric grid across 46 states, putting high-speed rail in 31 states, and bringing broadband Internet to communities, but with one in five construction workers still unemployed, Obama said it makes “absolutely no sense” not to invest more in infrastructure.
The plan will help rebuild 150,000 miles of roads, lay and maintain 4,000 miles of rail, and restore 150 miles of airport runways, Obama said. He said it will not add to the deficit.
Transportation bills have traditionally received bipartisan support in Congress, but in a tough election season, Republicans have criticized stimulus spending for failing to create jobs, pointing to a 9.6 unemployment rate that has remained unchanged for months.
LaHood called the idea that the stimulus has not worked “nonsense.”
“Infrastructure does create jobs,” LaHood said in a press conference following the president’s remarks.
He said the $48 billion in federal funds from the Recovery Act that went to the Department of Transportation have been poured into 14,000 projects, including $28 billion for roads and $8 billion for high-speed rail.
“We’ve done plenty, but we’ve got to do a lot more,” LaHood said.
“The fact is that America is not keeping up,” Villaraigosa said.
LaHood says the leaders will encourage Congress to make a $50 billion “downpayment” on the six-year plan when it returns from its October recess.