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What You Need to Know About President Obama's Plan to Improve American Infrastructure
01:58 PM EDT
Over the last four years, construction crews have built or improved more than 350,000 miles of road – enough to circle the world more than 14 times. We’ve upgraded more than 6,000 miles of rail – enough to go coast-to-coast and back. And American workers have repaired or replaced more than 20,000 bridges.
But we still have a long way to go.
While our national infrastructure got its best grade in 15 years from the American Society of Civil Engineers' annual report card in 2013, that grade is now a D+ instead of a D. We don’t have to accept that for America -- we can do better. And in a time of tight budgets, we can do it in a way that makes sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. Additionally, there are few more important things we can do to create jobs right now, and strengthen our economy than to put people back to work rebuilding America – our roads, bridges, schools, and ports.
In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama announced a three-part plan to encourage private investment in American infrastructure that will make our roads, bridges, and ports safer, give our businesses and workers the tools to compete successfully in the global economy, and create thousands of much-needed jobs in cities and towns across the country. Here’s how it works:
Investing in a “Fix-It-First” policy: The national transportation system faces an immense backlog of state-of-good-repair projects, a reality underscored by the fact that there are nearly 70,000 “structurally deficient” bridges in the country today. The President’s plan will put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs. The President’s plan for $50 billion in frontloaded transportation infrastructure investment would direct $40 billion towards reducing the backlog of deferred maintenance on highways, bridges, transit systems, and airports nationwide. For example, the President’s proposed investments could bring almost 80 percent of structurally deficient bridges up to date, getting Americans home faster and making the flow of commerce speedier.
Attracting private investment through a “Rebuild America Partnership”: Creating a partnership with the private sector will create jobs upgrading what our businesses need most – modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. The President's plan will bring together an array of new and existing policies all aimed at enhancing the role of private capital in U.S. infrastructure investment as a vital additive to the traditional roles of federal, state, and local governments -- making American workers and businesses more competitive and putting more Americans back on the job.
Part one is setting up an independent fund that will attract private investment to build these infrastructure projects. Projects will be chosen based on two criteria: how badly they’re needed, and how much good they’ll do for the economy.
The President’s plan helps finance these projects without wasting taxpayer dollars by creating “America Fast Forward” bonds, which will give mayors and governors more flexibility and power to attract private investment for public projects.
In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama called for the investment of $10 billion to create and capitalize an independent National Infrastructure Bank (NIB), which would leverage private and public capital for infrastructure projects that show the greatest merit. Each dollar of federal funding can leverage up to $20 in total infrastructure investment, mainly from partners in the private sector and state and local government.
Eligible projects for funding by the NIB would include transportation infrastructure, water infrastructure, and energy infrastructure. In general, projects would have to be at least $100 million in size, be of national or regional significance, and have a clear public benefit.
President Obama’s plan also strengthens the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. In recent years this program, which provides direct loans, loan guarantees, and lines of credit to regionally or nationally significant transportation projects, has helped mayors leverage four times the money invested in it by the federal government, helping construction workers get on the job quicker, and repaying taxpayers their hard-earned money faster.
The Administration is proposing $4 billion in new competitive funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) and TIFIA programs in 2014. This additional investment would make new grant and loan funding available for states and localities across the country, giving them both a new source of financing and the flexibility to design projects and financing packages to meet their needs.
Cutting red tape: The Obama Administration’s infrastructure permitting initiative has shown that we can cut federal review and permitting timelines for construction projects such as highway, bridges, railways, ports, waterways, pipelines, and renewable energy by several months to several years. This modernization effort will achieve time savings of 50 percent in the federal permitting and review process, while ensuring projects create better outcomes for communities and the environment. The effort will bring federal permitting and review procedures into the 21 century 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's top priority is to make sure we do everything we can to reignite the true engine of our economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs is the North Star that guides all our efforts as a country. The President's plan to improve America's infrastructure will create good jobs doing the work America needs done, and encourage more businesses to start here, grow here, and hire workers here.