All across the United States, roads are crumbling, bridges are breaking and ports are clogging. Along with stranded travelers, increased traffic jams and hindered meetings, the result is a stalled economy, according to President Barack Obama, who this week is touring the nation in support of a $302 billion infrastructure bill introduced by the White House earlier this year.
The president's bill, the GROW AMERICA Act, proposes raising $150 billion from corporate tax reform in order to make a four-year investment in "21st century transportation infrastructure" projects across the country.
"As a percentage of GDP, countries like China, Germany, they're spending about twice what we're spending in order to build infrastructure -- because they know that if they have the fastest trains on the planet or the highest-rated airports or the busiest, most efficient ports that businesses will go there," the president said in February, when he unveiled his plan. "But we don't want businesses to go there ... We want them to come here to the United States of America. And that means the best airports and the best roads and the best trains should be right here in America."
The president's infrastructure push comes as federal lawmakers consider how to replenish the country's main source of funding for roads, bridges and highways, the Highway Trust Fund, which will run out of money later this summer unless Congress agrees on a solution for funding it.
"That could put nearly 700,000 jobs at risk," Obama said during an appearance this week. "More than 100,000 active projects across the country -- projects where workers as we speak are paving roads and rebuilding bridges and modernizing our transit systems -- those projects would be slowed or stopped. And some states have already had to put some projects on hold because they don't trust Congress to get its act together."
So far, Congress has ignored the president's call for long-term infrastructure investment. Instead, it currently is considering a one-year, $11 billion stopgap.
Hoping to persuade action on both Congress' plan and his own, the White House on Monday published an interactive report detailing the impact on states if the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money. For instance, that reports claims that California could lose more than 73,000 jobs and 5,600 infrastructure projects.
Following on the White House report, Obama today is announcing a new government-wide initiative to increase infrastructure investment. Called the Build America Investment Initiative, it will include a "Build America Transportation Investment Center" through which the federal government will promote public-private partnerships that advance public infrastructure projects with private funding.
"Housed at the Department of Transportation, this center will serve as a one-stop shop for state and local governments, public and private developers and investors seeking to utilize innovative financing strategies for transportation infrastructure projects," the White House explained in a fact sheet. "The global investment community has over $83 trillion dollars with a growing appetite for infrastructure. That is potentially hundreds of billions of dollars to fund the building of U.S. public-private infrastructure."
"Exactly What the Doctor Ordered"
On behalf of the travel industry, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow celebrated the Build America Investment Initiative on Thursday, calling it "exactly what the doctor ordered."
"The president has repeatedly demonstrated that our infrastructure challenges have his full attention, and today we see again that his administration is devoting careful thought to how we tackle these problems," Dow said in a statement. "The sizable funding obstacles make transportation infrastructure an incredibly thorny political issue, and that means the solutions need to be innovative and forward-thinking. The Build America Investment Initiative is that in spades. Mobilizing the private sector to engage the infrastructure dilemma, as part of a balanced and comprehensive fiscal strategy, is exactly what the doctor ordered. The travel community fully supports the president's plan, we thank him for his initiative and we're eager to work with him as this issue moves ahead."
In May, the U.S. Travel Association published a study showing that 80 percent of its members rate America's infrastructure as being in "fair" or "poor" shape. It followed that study up this month with a new app that allows Americans to notify members of Congress when they're stuck in traffic jams.
"It used to be that we treated travel issues and transportation issues as separate and distinct, and travel businesses were content to leave surface funding questions to organizations like the truckers and road builders. We realized in recent years that we simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines without the force of America's travel community active in the debate," Dow continued. "We have seen an abundance of alarming evidence that Americans are consciously choosing to move around less because of hassles related to infrastructure decay, and that is just unacceptable for the U.S. economy. Thankfully, this president has been a reliable ally in these challenges."