WASHINGTON, March 29 (By Maria Young RIA Novosti) - US President Barack Obama announced a $21 billion plan Friday to attract private investors to fund what he said are badly-needed improvements to the nation’s highways, bridges, ports and waterways to spur job creation.
“There are few more important things we can do to create jobs right now and strengthen our economy over the long haul than rebuilding the infrastructure that powers our businesses and our economy,” Obama said.
“Let’s prove to the world there’s no better place to do business than right here in the United States of America, and let’s get started rebuilding America,” he told a cheering crowd at the Port of Miami.
Obama spoke following a tour of a new tunnel that will link the island-based port directly to the nation’s highway system, a project that was highlighted when the Port of Miami was featured as an example of success in the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, released last week by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
“The return on investment of this project is clear. The Port provides 76,000 jobs, $6.4 billion in wages, and $17 billion in economic output. The Port of Miami is a tremendous example of how infrastructure investment can lead to economic prosperity,” said ASCE President Gregory DiLoreto in a statement.
“By visiting the Port of Miami today, President Obama affirms the fact that without a strong infrastructure system our nation cannot flourish in a global economy,” he added.
The report card gave the nation’s ports a grade of “C,” but infrastructure overall got a “D+,” up slightly from a “D” in 2009 and considered poor but not failing. The authors noted significant problems with a number of facets of US infrastructure including dams, levees, waterways, roads and public transportation.
It is the most recent in a series of reports that underscore growing concern about the state of US infrastructure. A 2012-2013 Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum ranks the United States 25th in the quality of its overall infrastructure, behind other developed nations including France, Germany, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, which is ranked first.
The Russian Federation is ranked 101st on the list.
A 2011 report by the Transportation for America coalition found more than 68,000 bridges in the United States to be “structurally deficient,” and in need of major repair.
“The typical bridge is in its mid-40’s now, and a typical design life is 50 years, which means you can expect major overhaul and possible replacement at that point,” said spokesman David Goldberg in an interview Friday with RIA Novosti.
“Most bridges are safe right now, but the decks can have pot holes that damage vehicles, sometimes you have to weight-restrict the bridge, there are a lot of things that happen before the bridge falls down usually, but none of them are very pleasant,” he added.
The United States, Obama said, needs high-speed rail, Internet, new state-of-the-art power grids, bridges, tunnels and ports that will allow companies to quickly ship American-made products all over the world.
“We still have too many ports that aren’t equipped for today’s world commerce. We’ve still got too many rail lines that are too slow and clogged up. We’ve still got too many roads that are in disrepair, too many bridges that aren’t safe,” he said, adding, “We don’t have to accept that for America. We can do better.”
Obama’s “Rebuild America Partnership” plan calls for private sector funding through a series of bond and grant programs, as well as the creation of a $10 billion national infrastructure bank designed to identify and finance the projects most beneficial to the nation. The US Congress would need to approve the $10 billion, no easy task as lawmakers look to cut billions from the federal budget.
Details for financing the $21 billion proposal – plus another $40 billion Obama proposed previously for spending on urgent infrastructure projects – will be spelled out in the president’s budget, scheduled for release April 10. The White House said the infrastructure plan will be paid for within the budget, and won’t increase the national deficit.
“This is a call to the nation that we need to continue to invest,” ASCE Executive Director Patrick Natale told RIA Novosti, adding,” I wouldn’t say there’s anything that’s about to collapse because bridges are inspected on a very regular basis, but unfortunately maintenance is one of the first things to get skipped.”