Obama warns transportation money will run out if Congress dawdles

President Obama warned that Congress's failure to pass transportation funding could cost 700,000 jobs and effectively force states to halt 100,000 improvement projects.

President Obama speaks in Tarrytown, N.Y., near the Tappan Zee Bridge, Wednesday about the need for a 21st Century transportation infrastructure.

President Obama traveled to New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge in Tarrytown, N.Y., to implore Congress to pass a languishing transportation bill that the White House says would secure 700,000 jobs and begin to restore the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

“If they don’t act by the summer, funding for transportation projects will run out,” the president warned. “The cupboard will be bare.”

Without federal funding, states may have to put the brakes on 100,000 active projects restoring roads, modernizing transit systems, and strengthening bridges, Mr. Obama said.

More than 63,000 bridges in the United States are in woeful need of repair, according to an American Road and Transportation Builders Association report released late last month.

The Tappan Zee Bridge is routinely overcrowded and holes in the pavement offer occasional views of the river.

"I'm not an engineer, but I figure that's not good," the president half-joked to the crowd.

Congestion on the nation’s overstressed urban highways costs the US economy $101 billion in wasted time and fuel each year, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of “D,” or poor, last year.

Obama’s plan would allot $302 billion over four years toward transportation projects, a move he wants to fund by eliminating business tax breaks.

“It wouldn’t add to our deficit because we’d pay for it in part by closing wasteful tax loopholes for companies that are shipping jobs oversees that are in the tax code right now, and that we could clean out and help pay to put folks back to work rebuilding America,” Obama said.

In addition to securing funding, the president wants to streamline the permitting process that states and cities must navigate before they can break ground on new projects.

Typically states spend three years wading through federal red tape to secure the necessary approvals to undertake new infrastructure improvements, the White House says.

Obama says he can cut that time in half by allowing for simultaneous permit reviews – a strategy that the White House already has used to fast track 50 major infrastructure projects since 2011, including the $3.9 billion replacement for the 60-year-old Tappan Zee Bridge.

He proposes to expand a “dashboard” to coordinate permit schedules and department reviews of proposed projects, including wind farms, ports, and pipelines.

The contentious Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from Canada would not be included in the dashboard, an exemption that Republican leaders have cited as a deal breaker.

“It’s a real challenge to listen to the president talk about reforming the permitting system when he’s been sitting on the permit for the country’s largest shovel-ready infrastructure program,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky said in a statement Wednesday.

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