War's end could help fund US infrastructure

Analysts were busy today parsing what President Obama said and didn't say in his State of the Union speech. 

Those who want more attention to be paid to transportation and infrastructure pointed hopefully to the president's "agenda to repair America’s infrastructure."

"So much of America needs to be rebuilt," Obama declared. "We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges; a power grid that wastes too much energy; an incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world."

"In the next few weeks, I will sign an executive order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects," the president promised. He suggested that the end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan could allow some federal spending to be shifted elsewhere.

"Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home," Obama urged.

Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, responded today by applauding the president "for his focus on investment in our nation's transportation infrastructure, including public transportation."

John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America, issued a statement saying, "I appreciate the President's recognition that repairing our transportation infrastructure must be part of any plan to make an America 'built to last.' ... Today, as the nation begins to rise out of a deep recession, investment in transportation infrastructure is critically important, including not only roads and bridges, but other modes such as trans and buses."

"As a former Republican mayor [of Meridian, Mississippi], I was pleased to hear the president's strong call not to politicize transportation construction," Smith said.

Not much emphasis

The fact is, transportation and other infrastructure projects occupied only a small part of Obama's speech. On his Transport Politic blog, Yonah Freemark said " it was clear from the President’s State of the Union address last night that 2012 will be a year of diminished expectations in the face of a general election and a tough Congressional opposition."

The speech "failed to propose dramatic reforms to encourage new spending on transportation projects, in contrast to previous years," Freemark noted. "While the Administration has in some ways radically reformed the way Washington goes about selecting capital improvements, bringing a new emphasis on livability and underdeveloped modes like high-speed rail, there was little indication in the speech of an effort to expand such policy choices."

The current transportation authorization  expires on March 31st), Freemark emphasized. "There is so far no long-term solution to the continued inability of fuel tax revenues to cover the growing national need for upgraded or expanded mobility infrastructure." 

The State of the Union focused much more heavily on prospects for improvement in the economy. Obama clearly expects that the state of the economy will be uppermost in voters' minds in this presidential election year. Though transportation and infrastructure spending can influence the economy, such spending seems to have been relegated to a lower position in the administration's priorities.

The full text of the State of the Union address can be found here in Canada's National Post.

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