Obama to speed infra permits

President Obama used a speech to stress the importance of infrastructure to the US economy and job market.

President Barack Obama called on Congress to take action to fund road and bridge improvements in the US, stressing the importance of infrastructure for the job market and the broader economy.

The President made his comments at the Tappan Zee Bridge, north of New York City, where a replacement bridge will be built in 2016. The first bridge to be replaced in the area in 50 years, the project was permitted in just one and a half years compared with a standard three-to-five-year period, according to the President.

Another 11 infrastructure projects will be put on the same “fast track”, which includes Boston’s South Station and light rail around Seattle, President Obama said, adding that a national permitting centre will be set up to facilitate the approval process.

The South Station Expansion Project in Boston, initiated by the transportation department in Massachusetts, includes improvements to tracks, platforms, interlockings, passenger facilities, and other attendant infrastructure, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation website.

The Seattle project aims to link the city by expanding its light rail further north and to the east side, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.

“First-class infrastructure attracts first-class jobs. Business owners don’t seek out crumbling roads and bridges,” President Obama said.

In less than a decade, the US has fallen to No. 18 from No. 7 in terms of the quality of roads globally, according to the White House.

“We’ve got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare,” President Obama said.

Nonetheless, investment in transportation in the US has been gradually cut in recent years, whereas Europe invests twice as much as the US does, and China invests four times as much, according to the President.

“Congress prevented efforts to make sure funding is in place for infrastructure projects… If they [Congress] don’t act by the end of summer, federal funding for transportation projects will run out,” and 112,000 projects and 700,000 jobs in infrastructure will be at stake,” said Obama.

Four years ago, the unemployment rate for construction workers stood at 20 percent. This is cut by more than half now, the President said, thanks to the Recovery Act that focuses on jump-starting the job market and making investments the country needs.

“It’s time for the folks who run around yelling about what’s wrong with America to roll up their sleeves and help us Rebuild America,” said the President.