Finding funds to improve US infrastructure

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Transportation advocates are hoping President Obama brings a sense of urgency to discussions about boosting infrastructure spending in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

Obama has called for increasing road and transit spending during addresses to Congress in previous years, but this time, the federal highway trust fund has only months before it is predicted to go bankrupt.

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Building America’s Future (BAF) President Marcia Hale said the reality of the transportation funding shortfall necessitates Obama addressing the issue with gusto.

“President Obama has always advocated for modernizing our ports, airports, roads and bridges while also building important new projects,” Hale said. “We hope that he will raise this issue on Tuesday with a real sense of urgency, because we need to invest in our infrastructure to remain economically competitive and to create badly needed jobs.”

Hale said Obama should call for Congress to renew the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act that is scheduled to expire in September. The measure includes funding for road and transit projects and authorizes the collection of the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax that has traditionally paid for these projects.

The difference between the amount of money the gas tax is scheduled to bring in and the amount of money needed to maintain the existing transportation system is projected to reach $20 billion, as cars become more fuel efficient, and Americans drive less.  

Hale said Obama should issue a strong call for the establishment of a national infrastructure bank to address the funding gap. She said she’d like to hear Obama push “the bipartisan national infrastructure bank bills, which have already been introduced.”

The BAF chief added that Obama should restate his support for high-speed railways.

Air Line Pilots Association President Lee Moak said he was hoping to hear Obama address Congress’s policy toward the airline industry. 

Moak said he also wanted Obama to disavow a Department of Homeland Security plan to establish a “preclearance” facility for airline passengers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where no U.S. airlines offer flights.

“We are looking for a commitment to fair skies and a level playing field that will allow our U.S. carriers to compete in a global marketplace,” Moak said.

Transportation advocates outside of Washington have a vested interest in Obama’s State of the Union speech as well. They say they have a potential solution to the road and transit funding crisis.

Highstar Capital founder Christopher Lee said he hopes to hear the president offer support for public-private partnerships.

Lee’s company has invested in international projects, such London City Airport, and dabbled in U.S. infrastructure construction like Ports America in Iselin, N.J. 

“As someone who knows the potential and value of private-public partnerships, I hope President Obama uses the State of the Union to tell America that we can do big things again,” Lee said. “When private-public partnerships are done right, they create jobs, increase tax revenue and provide a return on investment. But we need leadership and bipartisan cooperation in Washington to unlock the potential of private-public partnerships so they can be done right.”