Speaking over the steady hum of traffic at the Tappan Zee bridge,
about 20 miles north of New York City, Obama also said his
administration plans to accelerate approvals for infrastructure
projects across the country.
With Congress facing a big fight on how to replenish a federal fund
for road construction, Obama urged lawmakers to pass a
transportation bill to pay for an estimated 112,000 highway projects
and 5,600 transit projects under way this year.
Without passage, work could grind to a halt, putting at risk almost
700,000 jobs in the peak summer construction season.
"If they don't act by the end of the summer, federal funding for
transportation projects will run out," Obama said. "There will be no
money, the cupboard will be bare."
Obama has offered a four-year, $302-billion transport spending plan,
paid for by ending some business tax breaks. But the White House has
said he is open to alternative proposals to avert the looming
Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer's proposed six-year transportation
bill calls for current funding levels plus inflation for road,
bridge and transit projects through September 2020.
However, the measure does not contain a mechanism to increase
revenues to cover a chronic shortfall in U.S. fuel tax revenues as
fuel economy and construction costs rise. It will be up to
tax-writing committees in the House and Senate to make that crucial
Neither party has shown any interest in raising the 18.4 cents per
gallon tax on gasoline or the 24.4 cents per gallon tax on diesel,
which have not changed since 1993, despite calls for an increase
from trucking groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Obama singled out Republicans specifically for criticism for what he
called their efforts to pursue tax cuts instead of infrastructure
"If you want to tell them what you think about that, don't worry
because usually they show up at ribbon cuttings of projects they
refuse to fund," he said.
Obama has long pledged to snip red tape on infrastructure projects,
which can often face a long series of environmental and other types
of reviews from government bodies.
[to top of second column]
Since 2011, the administration worked on ways to expedite approval
for 50 major projects, such as the $3.9-billion replacement for the
aging 60-year-old Tappan Zee bridge, crowded with almost 138,000
vehicles per day.
By holding simultaneous reviews for several agencies for the new
bridge, the government approved it in 1.5 years instead of the three
to five years it would have typically taken, he said.
Obama said his government is expanding a "dashboard" used to track
schedules for permits and coordinate reviews for departments of
projects ranging from windfarms to ports and pipelines.
The highest-profile pipeline project, the politically contentious
Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from Canada, is not included in the
Supporters of Keystone XL complain that it has been under review for
more than five years. Environmental groups want Obama to stop the
"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 Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal, Jeff Mason, Steve Holland
and David Lawder; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and David Gregorio)
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