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SOTU 2015: Roadwork, yes, pie in the sky first

Jan. 21, 2015

A charged up President Obama challenged Congress last night to “turn the page” away from partisanship and work with him to pass legislation that he argued would strengthen “middle-class economics” for years to come.

“If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments, but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country,” Obama suggested near the close of his sixth State of the Union address

Even though the the major domestic initiatives he outlined in his speech will grab no traction on Republican-controlled Capitol Hill, the President merely noted the need to invest more steeply in a crucial engine for economic growth— an issue that is held to be a bastion of bipartisanship--  repairing and expanding the nation’s highway infrastructure.

“Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure -- modern ports, and stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet,” said Obama.  “Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this… Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.”

Beyond that direct pitch for cooperation, the President spoke of infrastructure initiatives that had been previously announced by his Administration. He referenced the Grow America Act, his plan to use tax reform to fund a four-year surface transportation bill that was rolled out last year but mostly ignored by Congress, noted a posting today by Politico.

Nonetheless, this morning infrastructure lobbying groups welcomed what the President did say about such investments and piggybacked their views on his remarks.

Leslie Blakey, executive director of Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), “commended” Obama’s emphasis on how infrastructure supports the economy and, in particular, the value gained by “leveraging public-private partnership opportunities” to improve infrastructure

“[In the SOTU address] President Obama turned his sights on policies to help the U.S. economy continue to improve by investing in infrastructure to give our farmers, manufacturers, retailers, builders and small-town businesses a greater competitive edge,” stated Blakey.

“The President is right to bear down on all that the Administration can do to leverage public-private partnership opportunities, which are considerable for U.S. infrastructure,” she remarked. “To maximize their impact, these efforts must be matched with a well-funded multi-year surface transportation authorization with a strong commitment to dedicated freight project funding.”

Blakey termed recent Administration actions taken to “leverage federal dollars by partnering with private capital and using creative financing strategies” along with establishing “investment centers” within federal executive departments, “removing barriers,” and engaging with state and local partners” as key efforts marking “the right path” ahead.

Although admonishing that the U.S. has “allowed our worldwide trading partners to have a head-start” on that road, she pointed out that “well-executed facilitation from the federal level can help America catch up and develop the world-class infrastructure needed to support our burgeoning economy.”

Blakey noted that federal policies announced last week to  “incentivize innovative financing and private investment in public infrastructure” will be a “boon, particularly, to our freight network as gateways and corridors often encompass private industry partners and facilities that have a natural interest in improving public system parts.”

Pivoting on Obama’s call for bipartisan action to improve infrastructure, Patrick D. Jones, executive director of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Assn. (IBTTA),  stated that “As the economy starts back on the right track, Congress can rescue this vital part of our economic engine from further deterioration.

"…Before another bridge collapses, Congress must examine every revenue source to find sustainable ways to build, maintain, and reconstruct our nation’s bridges, tunnels and highways,” continued Jones.

Remarking that the States “are more than willing to do their share,” he urged the White House and Congress “to work together to provide states with greater flexibility to meet their individual transportation funding needs— including the right to use tolling on their existing Interstate highways for the purpose of reconstruction.”

Jones add that the States can “use tolling to build a transportation system that paves the way for better jobs, better wages and a better life for America's middle-class.”


As for what trucking’s biggest lobby thought of the speech, this afternoon the American Trucking Assns.(ATA) stated itsdisappointment that President Obama failed to more fully flesh out his vision for a well-funded, long-term highway bill

“Just mentioning infrastructure is not a solution to our nation's critical needs, and by simply bringing the topic up without details President Obama missed an opportunity to underscore the critical role our highway system plays in our economic well-being,” said ATA president & CEO Bill Graves.

“Now is the time, with the Highway Trust Fund set to go bankrupt in May, to show vision and leadership and most importantly, find funding, to keep that from happening,” he continued.

Graves called on both the President and Congress “to end this unnecessary uncertainty by funding our nation's infrastructure and passing a new highway bill.”

The association noted that representing trucking in the SOTU audience was ATA first vice chairman Pat Thomas, vice president of global public affairs for UPS Inc.  

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Thomas said of taking in the annual address. “We were very pleased to have the President mention infrastructure… however we were a bit disappointed he didn’t spend any more time or get into any more detail about the importance of infrastructure.”

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