President Obama Shows Signs of Ongoing Commitment to Infrastructure Investment - Finally, a President Who Gets It

On February 12, President Obama made a point to add to his packed agenda a visit to Caterpillar's track-type tractor plant in Peoria, IL, where he addressed management and workers about the pending American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (HR 1). Although expected to pass its final hurdle in Congress the next day, the President clearly felt the necessity to present the legislation's benefits directly to workers particularly impacted by the economic crisis.

"What's happening at this company tells us a larger story about what's happening with our nation's economy," he stated. He cited the company's previous and intended layoffs, totaling up to 22,000 workers, as "an urgent warning sign for America."

"Because when a company that is as good and successful and efficient and lean and mean as Caterpillar is shutting down production and shedding jobs, that means we're not building up this country," he pointed out. "We're not building new homes and offices or rebuilding crumbling schools and infrastructure. In short, we're standing still."

(Visit for full video coverage of the President's speech, as well as the follow-up press conference with Jim Owens, chairman and CEO of Caterpillar.)

Whether you agree with his agenda or not, President Obama appears to be the first president in decades to embrace the necessity of ongoing investment and growth in the nation's infrastructure. His commitment to this cause was prevalent throughout the latter portion of his campaign, and in the recent weeks of negotiations on the stimulus bill. This bodes well for the future, particularly as Congress embarks on reauthorization of federal highway funding legislation this Fall.

With SAFETEA-LU set to expire in September, there is a concern that the current funds allocated to infrastructure projects could stem enthusiasm for expanded federal highway investment. Yet, the need for further funding is great, and growing greater every year. A report released last month by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation's infrastructure an overall grade of D, and stated it would require $2.2 trillion over five years to get it back in decent shape.

Hopefully, we now have a President in place who understands the urgency of the problem and is willing to push for the funding required. As he stated to his audience at Cat, "Standing still is not an option. It's not who we are. It's not who we have to be."

Of course, it's up to us as an industry to hold him accountable and ensure such rhetoric evolves into results.Speaking of commitments...

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