Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Barack Obama speaks at Key Bridge, outlines why we need good infrastructure

November 2, 2011 - 04:23 PM
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(Photo: White House/Lawrence Jackson)

President Obama, as you likely heard, spoke at the Key Bridge today about why the U.S. government should pass the transportation elements of his massive American Jobs Act proposal. The president has attempted to communicate repeatedly the concrete benefits that the act would bring. Earlier this fall, Obama predicted the act's transportation provisions would bring 5,000 jobs and $387 million to D.C. The transportation portion involves $50 billion, and today our country's executive leader demanded bold action of Congress in front of a bridge that carries tens of thousands of drivers every day.

"I hope the United States Senate heard his call and will pass the transportation provisions of the American Jobs Act this week," U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wrote on his blog after the event. "It was entirely fitting that the President made his case at the Key Bridge because this important crossing, which carries 62,000 vehicles each day, is one of America's more than 70,000 bridges in need of repair."

Coinciding with today's D.C. event was the release of a White House report titled, "Recent Examples of the Economic Benefits from Investing in Infrastructure."

The 20-page document illustrates "the economic rationale for making immediate, substantial investments in transportation infrastructure," as its conclusion would have you know, by listing different ways that such spending paid off. The report included examples of what good infrastructure spending looks like in the local D.C. metro region as well as around the country, and most of the report was dedicated to laying out what these improvements are.

The one local example the report highlighted was the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, which is 94% complete. Today, thanks to this work, the White House says it has "virtually eliminated bottlenecks crossing the Potomac River and increased safety and mobility for Interstate and commuter traffic. The project has received numerous awards, including AASHTO’s Grand Prize — Nationwide America's Transportation Award and the OPAL Trophy for Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award in 2008 awarded by the American Society of Civil Engineers."

The report is a nice touch from the administration and worth pairing with recent speeches from Obama and Secretary LaHood. Obama was also wise to highlight the risks of the Key Bridge. It's one of the structurally deficient bridges throughout the region that will need to be updated in coming years (see the list of D.C.'s 10 most congested deficient bridges here).

Should our country's transportation system be so at the whims of politicians? Pedestrian and biking advocates continue to worry about whether any of the Transportation Enhancement funding, a small fraction of the total which helps fund relevant walker and cyclist additions, will be passed intact. In particular, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) have voiced opposition to spending our money on these projects. Writing in the Associated Press, Joan Lowy notes this afternoon that some lawmakers "exaggerated and misrepresented some projects that have received aid" to further their cause. She says that these transportation funds amounted to $927 million in the past year, just under two percent of the total spent on highways. In the past, Cantor has wondered whether Congress should cut any funds designated for bikesharing, and specifically referred to the Capital Bikeshare program operated within the District.

For the sake of commuters of all types, let's hope something substantial and focused moves forward. Gridlock, real and political, is never a good thing.

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