Obama to visit shutdown Delaware bridge amid highway fight

Obama to visit shutdown Delaware bridge amid highway fight
© Getty Images

President Obama is planning to visit a heavily traveled Delaware interstate bridge that has been shut down for nearly two months because of a dangerous construction flaw.

The bridge, which carries Delaware’s Interstate 495 across the state’s Christina River, was closed on June 2 when engineers discovered it was not level.

Delaware officials have said that bridge, which carries approximately 90,000 vehicles per day, will likely be closed until Labor Day.


Obama’s visit is his latest attempt to push lawmakers to approve a new round of transportation funding with a bridge as a backdrop.

Earlier this month, Obama gave a speech in front of a bridge that connects Washington, D.C., to nearby northern Virginia. 

Republicans have criticized Obama for using bridges as a campaign backdrop, noting that the GOP-led House has already passed a temporary transportation funding extension. 

“Earlier this week, the House passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan highway bill," a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Michael Steel, said in a statement Thursday.  

"The roadblock now is the U.S. Senate, controlled by the President’s own political party," Steel continued. "As a leader of that party, he could work to break the Senate gridlock. Instead, he is giving a petulantly irrelevant speech.” 

White House officials have noted Obama has proposed that Congress approve a four-year, $302 billion transportation funding package. GOP lawmakers balked at Obama’s proposal because it relies largely on using approximately $150 billion from closing corporate tax loopholes to pay for new road and transit projects. 

Lawmakers have worked instead on a nearly $11 billion bill that would extend federal transportation funding until May 2015. The GOP-led House’s approach relies on funding sources like so-called pension “smoothing,” which allows companies to reduce the amount of money they place in their employees' pensions, and boosting customs fees to generate the money to replenish federal transportation. 

The measure, which was approved in the House on Tuesday, counts on revenue that is anticipated to come from those policies over the next 10 years to offset the money that will be spent over the next eight months. 

Supporters of the temporary GOP transportation bill say the short-term funding patch will gives lawmakers more time to debate a way to pay for a long-term transportation funding bill. 

The Department of Transportation has warned that its Highway Trust Fund would run out of money in August unless Congress takes action to refill it.

The usual funding source for transportation projects is revenue collected from the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax. The tax has been unchanged since 1993, however, and has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient.

The gas tax brings in about $34 billion per year; the federal government currently spends approximately $50 billion annually on road and transit projects.

Transportation advocates have said that the current funding level is the minimum that can be spent to maintain the nation’s infrastructure network, and they have pushed to increase the gas tax for the first time in two decades to help pay for the spending. 

The department, meanwhile, has told lawmakers that the states would have to take a 28 percent funding cut if the highway fund is allowed to go broke.