TARRYTOWN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama visited the Tappan Zee Bridge on Wednesday and announced a series of measures aimed at improving the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
During a speech along the banks of the Hudson River, Obama touted his administration’s fast-tracking of the bridge, which is now under construction to replace the Tappan Zee, and then announced a plan to speed up 11 other infrastructure projects in cities including Boston, Pensacola, Fla., and Seattle.
“We’re cutting bureaucratic red tape that stalls good projects from breaking ground,” Obama said.
The president also said he plans to launch a new national permitting center to implement reforms and create a “public dashboard” so that Americans can track the progress of infrastructure projects. He said none of the measures require approval from Congress.
“We can build better, and we have to,” Obama said. ‘We have ports that aren’t ready for the next generation of cargo ships. We’ve got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare. We’ve got leaky pipes that lose billions of gallons of drinking water every single day, even as we’ve got a severe drought in much of the West. Nearly half our people don’t have access to transit at all. And I don’t have to tell you what some of our airports look like.”
The president said poor infrastructure could take a toll on the nation’s economy as companies decide where to locate facilities.
“First-class infrastructure attracts first-class jobs,” Obama said.
“Over the past 50 years … our investment in transportation has shrunk by 50 percent,” he added. ” … You know what other countries are doing? European countries now invest twice as much as we do. China invests four times what we do in transportation.”
Obama also tried to apply pressure on federal lawmaker to do more. He called on Congress to extend federal funding for transportation projects and approve his plan to rebuild transportation infrastructure, supporting millions of jobs.
“Rebuilding America, that shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Obama said. “One study recently found that over time we’ve fallen to 19th place when it comes to the quality of our infrastructure. I don’t like America being 19th. I don’t like America being second. I want us to be first, because businesses are going to come where there’s good infrastructure.”
Earlier, the president said the Tappan Zee project was long overdue.
“At times, you can see the river through the cracks in the pavement,” he said. “Now, I’m not an engineer, but I figure that’s not good.
‘Workers are building a replacement. The first new bridge in 50 years. It’s called the New NY Bridge, which is fine as a name. But for your next bridge you should come up with a little something more fresh,” the president added.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who introduced Obama, said the process leading up to the construction of the Tappan Zee was frustrating.
“It has been outdated,” Cuomo said of the span. “It’s been unsafe. It’s been in need of repair for many, many years.
“We spent $80 million and 10 years talking about replacing the bridge. But we just couldn’t get it done. It was seemingly too complex. It was too big. We couldn’t even get it started. To me, it was a metaphor for what had happened to our state. Political gridlock, government paralysis, fear and indecision had taken control,” the governor added.
The Tappan Zee, which opened to traffic in 1955, is being replaced at a cost of $3.9 billion. The financing largely comes from bonds paid for through higher tolls.
A $1.6 billion federal loan was recently approved to help pay for the Tappan Zee replacement project, which was on the drawing boards for more than a decade until the White House put it on a list of fast-track projects in 2012.
The president’s visit is part of a week-long attempt by the White House to focus the nation’s attention on what the administration describes as a looming crisis.
Some Tarrytown residents said they were mixed on the plan to fund infrastructure improvements.
“I’m not for it, but we got to pay for it somehow,” Derrick Duncanson said.
“Instead of having troops all over the world and bases all over the world, cut back on that and use the money for the crumbling infrastructure,” resident Frank D’Angelo added.
“I think that that’s one of the areas that’s been really neglected. And I feel that somebody has to pay for it, and I’m willing to,” resident Joyce Greene said.
THE OBAMA TRANSPORTATION PLAN
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx kicked off the week Monday by warning that the Highway Trust Fund, which relies on gasoline taxes that haven’t been raised in 20 years, could run dry in August.
Vice President Joe Biden added his voice Tuesday, telling local leaders in St. Louis that “we’ve stalled” on infrastructure as he promoted a $410 million renovation to the famous Gateway Arch that’s being funded largely by donations. Biden was to speak at a Rapid Transit center in Cleveland on Wednesday.
The Obama administration has proposed a four-year, $302 billion transportation plan. Of that amount, half would be in addition to the programs paid for with fuel taxes.
A proposal would also let states put tolls on federal interstate highways such as I-95 in New York and Connecticut, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
The New Jersey Turnpike is already a toll road because it was grandfathered in.
That additional spending would come from revenue raised by closing corporate tax loopholes and by making other changes in business taxes, a long-shot idea in a politically divided Congress.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said it’s imperative to pass the president’s plan.
“When I look at some of the bridges in our region, you see highways, you see rusting, ineffective repairs, so we have to take this seriously,” she told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams.
Later Wednesday, Obama was to headline a pair of high-dollar fundraisers for Democrats.
He was to spend the night in Manhattan before attending Thursday’s dedication of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.
A FLEETING GLIMPSE
Some residents lined roads in Tarrytown hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama as he passed in his motorcade.
For some, it was just a split second that they’ll remember for a lifetime, CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported.
“It was really cool,” one girl said.
“Definitely thought he wanted to get a glimpse of everyone,” Said Matt Hammer. “He wanted to see everyone coming out today.”
School kids, who got out of school early, were buzzing about the visit.
“I think that’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Lena Swenson, of Tarrytown. “Even if you don’t like the president, it’s still pretty cool.”
“And also, we had a half-day of school, and that’s pretty cool,” added Nicole Kern.
In the end, the president never really came near the heart of Tarrytown, but that was OK for those who caught a fleeting glimpse of history.
“Special moment,” said Marion Robinson, who said she went out in the morning to get a good spot and kept getting moved by the Secret Service.
“It was a split second, but it was worth it because it’s history,” said Andrea Robertson, of Tarrytown. “It’s nice.”
The president was in and out of Tarrytown in an hour.
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