By Vicki Needham - 03/16/11 12:07 AM EDT
Under the plan, the federal government would provide up to 50 percent of a loan for a chosen project.
As the highway trust fund faces major shortfalls and the federal budget running large deficits, lawmakers and the Obama administration are looking for ways to pay for improving the nation's aging infrastructure while getting new projects off the ground.
"It is essential to think outside the box as we work to solve national challenges, particularly in this fiscal crisis." Hutchison said. "We must be creative to meet the needs of our country and to spur economic development and job growth while protecting taxpayers from new federal spending as much as possible.
Hutchison said the bill sponsors were aiming to provide funding without adding to the nation's growing debt.
Kerry said the initiative, which President Obama has talked about in one form or another since taking office in 2009, will "help bridge the infrastructure deficit that has been plaguing our nation for decades."
As proposed, the "national infrastructure bank" would provide low-interest loans and loan guarantees for large infrastructure projects.
Kerry and Hutchison were joined by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
The Kerry-Hutchison legislation calls for a seven-member board to lead the transportation fund and seek out private investment to pair with public funding for major regional and national projects.
Donohue and Trumka have recently joined forces to press for a long-term infrastructure bill they say will create much-needed jobs as the unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent.
Donohue said the private sector is keenly interested in backing infrastructure projects.
"A national infrastructure bank is a great place to start securing the funding we need to increase our mobility, create jobs and enhance our global competitiveness,” he said.
"There is capital all over the world looking for things to get a mandatory return," he said. "While private capital is badly needed, we must also recognize our public financing mechanism is broken. We need a multiyear highway bill to meet immediate needs, but we have to figure out a way to ensure we have adequate public investments for years to come."
Donohue and Trumka have suggested an "appropriate" increase in the federal fuel tax to provide funding for the ailing highway trust fund, saying it has been too long since it was raised.
The federal gas tax is currently 18.4 cents a gallon and hasn't changed since 1993. Some states have implemented their own increases to pay for infrastructure improvements.
Some lawmakers are skeptical that the proposed infrastructure bank would consider projects in all regions.
Specifically, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has argued that it would likely benefit large cities and leave out rural areas.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also touted the proposed national infrastructure bank, which would receive $30 billion over six years as part of a proposed comprehensive six-year, $556 billion plan.