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Transport groups seek Obama infrastructure plan details

(The following story by John D. Boyd appeared on The Journal of Commerce website on September 7, 2010.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Industry groups were scrambling for details on how the administration expects to develop the $50 billion spending fund President Obama announced Sept. 6 for the nation's roads, railways and airports.

The White House released an information sheet that tells in broad strokes how the administration plans to use the money but did not say how much it will spend on different transportation segments or how soon it will ask Congress for the money.

It said the $50 billion would be an "up-front" investment, and would be paired with a reauthorization of long-term spending programs by the Department of Transportation, which are dominated by highway spending.

The White House said the proposed initial investment would be divided among roadways, inter-city passenger travel by rail and bus, airport runways and deployment of a next-generation air traffic control system, and a permanent infrastructure bank to fund more construction projects outside traditional federal formula allocations to the states.

Transportation groups were trying to pin down whether this means the White House is now seeking early congressional passage of a long-term transportation bill, which would include the $50 billion, or if it will take the down-payment now to get things started while Congress sorts out the long-term legislation.

Several industry officials praised the proposal despite the uncertainty, saying the president's action indicates the administration is now on a course to put significant new resources into transportation besides the $48 billion in stimulus money that the DOT is already spending from last year's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This $50 billion would be in addition to normal revenue going into the Highway Trust Fund, which is mainly from federal per-gallon taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. New congressional estimates that the fund is solid through 2012 had triggered industry concerns that Obama and Congress might fail to quickly push for more infrastructure funding.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

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