WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President Barack Obama announced a new program Thursday to attract more private money to help pay to build new roads and bridges as he criticized Congress for refusing to approve a more lasting source of funding.
The new program is designed to encourage collaboration between state and local governments and private-sector investors, expand the market for public-private partnerships and make greater use of federal credit programs.
Obama argued that the U.S. is losing its competitive edge to other countries that spend freely on infrastructure upgrades.
"First-class infrastructure attracts investment and it creates first-class jobs," Obama said at the Port of Wilmington, where the recently closed I-495 bridge provided the backdrop. The bridge was closed indefinitely last month after four support columns were found to be tilting, forcing 90,000 daily drivers to find another way through downtown Wilmington.
Obama's trip is part of a broader effort to press Congress to keep money flowing into the Highway Trust Fund, the source of federal aid to states for surface transportation projects. The fund is expected to begin running out of money next month unless lawmakers act.
The Republican-controlled House passed a temporary transportation funding bill this week to keep aid flowing through next May, after the midterm elections. A similar bill is pending in the Senate, though the chamber's Democratic leaders are expected to vote next week on the House-passed measure. Obama supports the temporary patch but pressed for more stable funding.
He said even smaller transportation projects can take years to design, plan and build.
"A few months of funding doesn't cut it," said Obama, who has devoted most of his public appearances this week to pressing Congress to approve his four-year, $302 billion transportation proposal or come up with an alternative long-term measure.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Democratic-controlled Senate is the roadblock to transportation funding, and he urged Obama to work to break the Senate gridlock.
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