Obama defends 2009 transportation stimulus

President Obama defended his 2009 economic stimulus Wednesday during an appearance at a Minnesota rail station he said was renovated with money from the controversial package.

Republicans in contrast revived criticism of the stimulus earlier this month when it reached its fifth anniversary, arguing that the package that was designed to infuse cash into the then-badly struggling economy was full of wasteful spending.

Obama said that the GOP’s attack ignored successes like the renovation of St. Paul’s Union Depot train station, where he toured new light rail train cars that will be used by the Minneapolis Metro Transit system.

“This project symbolizes what’s possible,” Obama said during remarks designed to promote his proposal for a new $302 billion transportation funding bill.

“Union Depot was renovated and expanded with the help of what we call TIGER grants,” Obama continued. “These are competitive grants that we created as part of the Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus, which actually worked — despite what everybody claims.”

TIGER grants proved popular with state and local governments that were searching for matching funds for transportation projects. The grant program has been reauthorized several times by lawmakers after the stimulus ran out in 2011.

Obama announced a competition for a sixth round of TIGER grant funding on Wednesday, with $600 million available for awards to local projects.

“The idea is, if a city or state comes up with a plan to modernize transportation infrastructure that will have a significant impact on economic activity, and if they line up other sources of funding to help pay for it, they can win a TIGER grant and the federal government becomes a partner with these local communities,” Obama said.

Obama expressed particular optimism about the planned extension of Minneapolis’s Metro light rail system to St. Paul, which is scheduled to open later this year.

“I just had a chance to take a look at some of those spiffy new trains,” he said. “They are nice, and they’re energy efficient. They’re going to be reliable. You can get from one downtown to the other in a little over 30 minutes instead of, when it’s snowing, being in traffic for two hours."

Obama added that the light rail train cars were constructed by American workers.

“The trains were made in California, which meant folks were put to work here in the United States building them,” he said.