WILMINGTON, Del. (July 17, 2014) — In the face of congressional inaction on long-term surface transportation legislation, the Obama administration has created an investment center within the Transportation Department to foster “innovative” financing and public-private sector partnerships to support infrastructure improvements.
The “Build America Transportation Investment Center” — billed as a “a one-stop shop” for cities and states seeking ways to support transportation infrastructure projects — is part of the administration’s Build America Investment Initiative, the White House said in a press release.
President Barack Obama announced the initiative July 17 at the I-495 Bridge at the Port of Wilmington. Currently under repair, the bridge served 90,000 cars every day before it was closed June 2, and is a prime example of the importance of infrastructure to the U.S. economy, the White House said.
Among the features of the Build America Transportation Center, the White House said, are:
- A “navigator service” to make DOT credit programs both more understandable and more accessible to state and local governments;
- Improved access to DOT credit programs, including the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program;
- Enhanced technical assistance, both on-demand and website-based; and
- Partnership with the Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center to reduce uncertainty and delays in the permitting process.
The administration will also create a federal inter-agency working group, co-chaired by cabinet secretaries, to expand private investment and collaboration in infrastructure beyond the transportation sector, the White House said.
The Treasury Department will host a summit on infrastructure investment in Washington Sept. 9 to discuss and formulate innovative infrastructure financing programs, it said.
Reaction to the formation of the center generally was positive, though commenters said nothing can replace long-term transportation funding legislation.
“Any private sector resources that can be put to bear on our nation’s infrastructure are welcome,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “However, these approaches remain a supplement for public investment, not a substitute.”
Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, noted that the formation of the center does not come with any “Buy American” requirements for infrastructure improvements.
“Public-private financing can play a big part in rebuilding America, but it should not come at a cost of outsourcing manufacturing jobs,” Mr. Paul said. “We’ve built almost all of America’s highways and bridges with American-made steel. This initiative should be no different.”
Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure, called the plan "essential to fostering public-private partnerships...."
"This is the sort of long-term initiative that our economic future requires," said BAF co-chair and former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, noting the initiative would serve to modernize roads, rails, transit and aviation systems.
“I am pleased to see Congress is making at least short-term fixes to save the Highway Trust Fund, but what the country really needs is a long-term vision like what the President proposed today,” said BAF co-chair and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.
“We need the construction jobs that come with repairs and maintenance of everything from roads and bridges to ports and airports, but the country also desperately needs improved infrastructure so our companies can compete in a global economy.”