With the ailing I-495 bridge as his backdrop, President Obama was in Delaware on Thursday to promote investment in infrastructure.
Flanked by well-worn shipping containers at the Port of Wilmington, Obama signed a memorandum that officially created the Build America Investment Initiative, a program designed to create a public/private collaboration in order to increase infrastructure investment and spur economic growth.
“Let’s build some bridges,” Obama said as he approached a desk to sign the memorandum. “Let’s build some roads.”
Obama described the B-A-I-I as a “one-stop shop” for cities and states that seek to partner with the private sector to fund infrastructure projects.
“Lots of states and local governments would welcome more private investment, but they need a partner in the federal government to do some matchmaking and to work through some of the complexities of private financing in infrastructure,” he said.
As part of the B-A-I-I, cities and states would receive federal help in applying for federal loans, establishing public-private partnerships and speeding up the permitting process for projects.
The plan will include the creation the Build America Transportation Investment Center, that will help local and state governments access federal transportation credit programs as well as offering assistance in securing investments through public-private partnerships.
“There’s lots of investors who want to back infrastructure projects because, when it’s done right, they then get a steady, long-term investment, a steady return,” Obama said.
While in Wilmington, Obama criticized Congress for legislative inaction, specifically citing recent funding issues involving the Highway Trust Fund. He said that infrastructure investment transcended party politics.
“Both parties have historically understood that investing in the long-term pays off,” Obama said.
Referencing recent remarks made by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Obama said of the temporary funding, “To call this a Band-Aid is an insult to Band-Aids.”
Speaking prior to the President, Markell described the state of infrastructure as being “unacceptable” both in Delaware and across the country.
“It cannot continue to support the world’s strongest economy,”Markell said.
Markell said that infrastructure investment will create job opportunities and keep America competitive in a global economy. He praised the Obama administration for adopting a broader perspective on investment.
“They’re not satisfied with Band-Aid solutions,” Markell said, “and we shouldn’t be either.”
Positives and negatives
How these initiatives will be implemented remains to be seen.
DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt he’s anxious to learn more about the plan. Drawing upon his previous experience in the Federal Highway Administration, Bhatt said that the BAII could allow for the numerous approvals necessary for capital projects to occur simultaneously instead of sequentially.
Bhatt was hopeful that this initiative could benefit both investors and the public.
“There are private dollars out there. I know there’s pension funds and other places that are looking to place their money, infrastructure investment is a great place to put it. It’s very stable,” he said. “If there’s a way for the administration to marry up some of those dollars with the states and localities who need that money, it’s a win-win.”
Sate Sen. Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley, observed that while functioning roads and bridges are “critically important” for residents, any new infrastructure initiatives should be accompanied by measures of accountability and by reform of existing policies.
Noting that the I-495 Bridge served as an “ironic backdrop” to the day’s events, Lavelle observed that the rebuilding project taking place at the bridge was not an “intentional” infrastructure project.
“It is almost an argument not to put more money into transportation funding because of the neglect and [lack of] accountability around this project,” he said.
With additional reporting by Shana O’Malley and Shirley Min.
Here are excerpts from President Obama’s speech: