Obama stumps for ‘private investment’ in US infra

President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union that he’d like to rebuild American infrastructure with the help of private investors. An infrastructure bank and a new six-year transportation funding plan are on the agenda, as well as continuing support for high-speed rail and clean energy generation.

President Barack Obama proposed to “redouble” the country’s efforts in rebuilding its infrastructure, challenging Congress to “attract private investment” to the nation’s highway and bridge network, build out a nationwide network of high-speed rail and promote clean energy sources of energy.

“We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges,” Obama said in his annual speech to Congress, the State of the Union Address. “We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.”

Barack Obama

A White House memo on the president’s speech said Obama will accomplish these goals via a six-year transportation funding plan that will include “transformational investments” such as an infrastructure bank that will attract private capital “to build projects of national and regional significance”.

Obama requested $5 billion in his 2010 budget for a National Infrastructure Bank, but Congress denied the request.

Nevertheless, by referencing a six-year transportation funding plan, President Obama gave the strongest indication yet that he may be ready to support Congressional action on a new multi-year transportation bill. The last such bill expired in 2009 and efforts to renew it were opposed by the White House.

“After the Administration derailed a major six-year transportation bill in 2009, it is encouraging that they are now on board with getting infrastructure projects and jobs moving again,” John Mica of Florida, the Republican Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement responding to the president’s speech.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail

President Barack Obama


President Obama also challenged Congress to support a bold plan to build-out a nationwide network of high-speed rail connecting the country’s major urban centres. “Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail,” Obama said. “This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.”

Obama did not provide specifics for how to fund such an ambitious goal. The 2009 stimulus bill he signed into law, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, dedicated $8 billion to promote high-speed rail.

A high-speed rail plan developed by Amtrak, the government-owned passenger rail carrier, estimated a high-speed rail network would cost $117 billion for just one 430-mile corridor between Washington, DC and Boston. Costs for a statewide, 800-mile network in California, which received the lion’s share of the 2009 stimulus funds, have been estimated at $42.6 billion.

Congress has a real opportunity to work together on bipartisan legislation to achieve his goals

Sen. Jeff Bingaman



Obama also urged Congress to embrace an ambitious new goal for reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. “I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources,” Obama said to applause from legislators.

Obama also indicated support for a “clean energy” standard: a broader yardstick for measuring America’s move away from fossil fuels that embraces clean coal, nuclear and other non-renewable options alongside renewables like wind and solar power. Efforts to pass a more narrow standard focused on renewable energy sources have been meet with opposition in Congress.

After the Administration derailed a major six-year transportation bill in 2009, it is encouraging that they are now on board with getting infrastructure projects and jobs moving again

Rep. John Mica


“Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen,” Obama said.

Obama’s support for the clean energy standard elicited praise from some corners of Congress, including Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who chairs the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I am encouraged by the President’s continuing commitment to clean energy. Congress has a real opportunity to work together on bipartisan legislation to achieve his goals,” Bingaman said.