President Barack Obama stood on the banks of the Hudson River Wednesday, with the Tappan Zee Bridge as a backdrop. He was in Tarrytown to push a $302 billion transportation plan, and shine a light on a replacement bridge project already under way.
With construction cranes emerging from the Hudson River alongside the current bridge that connects Rockland and Westchester Counties, President Obama said the expedited review and permitting process that jumpstarted the new bridge project is one to be replicated across the country, and he praised New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and four Democratic Hudson Valley congressional representatives in attendance for making it possible.
“Thanks to their outstanding efforts, workers are building a replacement – the first new bridge in New York in 50 years,” Obama said. “It’s called the New New York Bridge, which is fine as a name, but for your next bridge you should come up with something a little more fresh.”
He noted that Congresswoman Nita Lowey, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, was instrumental in helping to secure a $1.6 billion federal loan to help finance construction of the new Tappan Zee, the largest loan of its kind ever.
“Investing in infrastructure creates jobs, strengthens the economy, and we’ve got to work together to increase those resources,” said Lowey. “The Republicans won’t do it. The Highway Trust Fund is in jeopardy. And I hope this message rings loud and clear throughout the United States because this project is good for the economy, creates jobs, and it’s good for commuter safety.”
The Highway Trust Fund is on track to run out of money by August. Obama gestured to the Tappan Zee as a reason Congress should act to replenish that fund.
“The bottom line, Tarrytown, is America doesn’t stand still. There’s work to be done. There are workers ready to do it. Some of them are here and they’re already on the job doing the work. We’re proud of them.”
Like Lowey, fellow Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney wants to see more money in place to enable loans like the one secured for the new bridge.
“On the Transportation Committee I’m working to expand the federal program that is responsible for getting this bridge built. That’s called the TIFIA [Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act] program,” said Maloney. “We need to make it bigger. We need to make it apply to more projects, and we should incentivize states to use it by changing their own laws to get the kind of efficiencies we’ve gotten in New York to get this bridge going the way the governor has.”
Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel says both sides of the aisle need to sit down and map out a blueprint for the country.
“But I think infrastructure has to be a very important component of that because infrastructure means jobs, jobs, jobs, and unfortunately we’re not doing jobs,” said Engel. “We’re having hearings on Benghazi. We’re doing all kinds of other things that are a waste of time, but we should be creating jobs so that we can put unemployed people to work.”
The president wants the same.
“We don’t need a can’t-do spirit, we need a can-do spirit,” said Obama. “That’s what Governor Cuomo has and it sounds like the state legislature was willing to work with him on this, but we need Congress to work with us on these issues.”
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Rockland County Executive Ed Day, both Republicans, attended the speech, but did not have seats. Astorino dug his tongue into his cheek, saying he turned to online ticket retailer StubHub to try and get a seat.
“And as the county executives of Westchester and Rockland that links this bridge, and we’ve given our full support to this bridge, too, I think we’re both honored to be here, no matter where we’re standing,” Astorino said.
Later Thursday, Astorino was set to be formally designated the Republican candidate for governor. Astorino called Obama’s speech a partisan rally that bashed congressional Republicans.
“I’m glad he was here. I’m absolutely glad that he came to Westchester County. This is a really important project,” said Astorino. “I really wanted to hear a lot about infrastructure and federal dollars and priorities, but I kind of came to a political event. I didn’t know that.”
Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, who represents Rockland County communities by the bridge, supports the president when it comes to infrastructure.
“You can say this is political, but I quite frankly think this is about our communities, about economic development, about inspiring other communities to fight for improvement of their infrastructure,” Jaffee said.
Obama announced a plan to modernize the federal infrastructure permitting process, cutting through red tape to enable construction to begin sooner, jobs to be created earlier, and infrastructure to be fixed faster. He notes federal agencies completed the permitting and review for the replacement Tappan Zee Bridge in 1½ years for a process that usually takes 3-5 years. The bridge is scheduled for completion in 2018 at a cost of $3.9 billion.