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Secretary Ray LaHood Remarks as Prepared Building America’s Future Policy Forum

Good morning.  Thank you, Mayor Riley, for the warm introduction and welcome to Charleston.  Thank you, Governor Rendell, for the invitation.  The last time I attempted to participate in a Building America’s Future gathering like this, President Obama scheduled a last-minute meeting at the White House about his infrastructure plan, and I had to participate in your forum via satellite.  So I’m thrilled to join you in person.

For three full years now, Building America’s Future has brought ideas and energy to our national debate.  You’ve carried local officials’ vision and voices to the nation’s capital.  You’ve loaned us great expertise – including that of Polly Trottenberg, who’s with us today and doing a great job as my assistant secretary for transportation policy.  And, in turn, America’s transportation priorities are very different today than they were only 20-some months ago.  Because of your advocacy, we’re rebuilding America’s roadways, railways, and runways; we’re rebuilding America’s economy; and we’re rebuilding America’s future.

Today, I’m looking forward to taking your questions and talking about your concerns.  But since this forum is focused on the economic benefits of infrastructure investment, I thought I’d start by sharing a little about how we’re building bridges between Americans who need jobs and jobs that need doing.

The Recovery Act was step one.  It’s financed almost 15,000 transportation projects nationwide.  And through these investments, we’ve already produced or protected hundreds of thousands of jobs.  After 22 straight months of job losses, the president’s economic plan has yielded 11 consecutive months of private sector job gains.  It’s created more than 1 million private sector jobs during 2010 – and close to 3.5 million jobs overall.

Of course, we have a lot more work to do.  There are still millions of Americans who need and want work, but can’t find it.  Our friends and neighbors are still hurting.  While some sectors of the economy have shown improvement, others continue to struggle.  And that’s why I’m pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Transportation has created a new tool that will help American businesses rebuild our infrastructure and create jobs at the same time.

As many of you know, the Obama Administration is maximizing our bang for the buck through a “Buy America” approach to construction.  It ensures that transportation projects are built with American-made products.  It ensures that money flows through the supply chain and generates a powerful ripple effect as workers earn and spend their paychecks.  It has been an essential part of our Recovery Act and high speed rail programs because it encourages manufacturers to re-open shuttered American plants and to re-hire skilled American workers.

The problem is that companies sometimes experience difficulty learning about “Buy America” waiver requests when they’re posted only in the Federal Register.  We’d like to make it easier for companies to know if a competitor is requesting such a waiver so they can jump in and attempt to manufacture the desired product here at home.

Therefore, today, we’re launching a new Web site that will improve access to business opportunities by posting links to all waiver requests in one central location: www.dot.gov/buyamerica.  This new site will help any American company easily identify if they can fill a particular need.  It will help any American company learn about each of our agencies’ “Buy America” provisions, requirements, and processes.  It will enable any American company to subscribe for e-mail alerts that notify them when new information is posted.

This is a big deal.  It builds on a tradition of “Buy America” commitments that reaches back to the time when President Lincoln oversaw construction of the transcontinental railroad.  It points to the kind efficiencies that we’ll develop more of as we flesh out the details of President Obama’s vision for the future of America’s transportation system.

On Labor Day, President Obama proposed a robust six-year reauthorization that includes the following elements:

One – an upfront $50 billion investment to help employ the nearly one in five construction workers that are still out of a job at a time when so many of the roads and bridges we use every day have fallen into disrepair.

Two – a national high speed rail network that, within 25 years, could give 80 percent of Americans the option of traveling from city to city by high speed train.

And three – thanks to the leadership and hard work of Building America’s Future – a National Infrastructure Bank, which will leverage private investment dollars and finance transportation innovations that are regional or national in scope.

DOT’s vision also includes key initiatives like program consolidation, streamlined project delivery, performance-based planning, and a focus on freight investments.

My goal is to have a bill through Congress and on President Obama’s desk by the August recess.

Obviously, with the change in House leadership and increasing concern about deficits, we face more than a few hurdles.  But, in the past, transportation policy was one area where members of both parties joined together in the common good.  I’ve met with Speaker-Elect Boehner and Transportation Chairman-Elect Mica and I’m optimistic that we work together in the weeks and months ahead. 

It couldn’t be more important.  Investment in our infrastructure would bring jobs and opportunity to our economy now.  A six-year reauthorization would create a more certain environment in which contractors could plan, bid, and build.  Communities are calling for the chances to identify projects most important to them and then to access the resources to bring them to life.

All of this also reflects a fundamental recognition: Americans can still build great things not just in spite of enormous economic challenges, but as the means of overcoming them. 

In America’s first century, we carved the Erie Canal and connected the coasts with the iron horse. In our second century, we built our interstate highways and the roads and bridges that are still lifelines of our economy.  Each succeeding American generation has demonstrated the foresight and courage to invest in the most important infrastructure projects of their time.  We can do no less.

Together, we will invest in job-creation here in South Carolina and across the country.  We will invest in economic opportunity.  And we will invest in building America’s future.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010