Obama’s Jobs Speech Gets the Transportation Wonk Seal of Approval

Trying to make sense of last night’s speech by President Obama? Not to worry!

President Obama earned high marks for his jobs speech, but can he muster enough support for passage? Photo: The New York Daily News

The brain trust at the Streetsblog Network has whipped up a few servings of transportation policy analysis in an appealing bloggy format just for you. The good news is, they generally like the president’s proposal, the American Jobs Act. The bad news is, they worry it won’t be passed.

Deron Lovaas at the Natural Resources Defense Council applauded the president’s plan to reserve $10 billion for a national Infrastructure Bank and retain investment for innovative projects through competitive grant programs like TIGER:

TIGER specifically has spurred cities and states to submit hundreds of proposals, and rewarded the most effective ones. Second, they can be merit-based. That means cost-effectiveness, and also allows for other criteria such as contributions to energy security (e.g., does the project save oil?). This ensures a good return-on-investment for taxpayers, which may not be the case if the funds are just doled out to state transportation agencies by dumb, simple formula.

Last but not least, in an era of huge fiscal constraints they leverage federal dollars. For every taxpayer dollar invested, they leverage many local, state and most importantly private dollars.

James Corless at Transportation for America echoed the sentiment that programs aimed at keeping transportation dollars competitive is the right prescription for our ailing economy and infrastructure:

From the perspective of infrastructure investments, the President’s proposal is both ambitious and pragmatic. He called for immediate investments in the kind of transportation projects that create near-term jobs while providing long-term benefits to Americans and the economy.

Matt Yglesias at Think Progress gave the president’s proposal a qualified thumbs up from an economic perspective:

Not every single one is my favorite stimulative idea (the employer-side payroll tax stuff, in particular, wouldn’t have been in my bill) and the President’s exposition of the concepts aren’t totally up to state of the art New Keynesian theories, but these ideas will help.

Meanwhile, Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic said that, while he’s skeptical the president will be able to garner the bipartisan support he needs for his plan, it is the only responsible way forward:

Alternatives to Mr. Obama’s plan that would continue to limit transportation funding from the federal government have little credibility — at least if we believe that keeping the nation’s mobility networks in a condition of acceptable repair is an important national goal.

States have limited ability to increase their indebtedness, and the cutbacks that have followed the recession have demonstrated that governors and state legislatures have been almost universally unwilling (or unable) to invest their own funds to shore up their roads and transit lines — in spite of a decline in support from D.C.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The League of American Bicyclists is putting out an action alert to all its supporters after a House committee yesterday stripped all bike and pedestrian funding out of its six-year transportation bill proposal. Transit Miami gets excited, understandably, at the sight of a green bike lane in the state of Florida. And Second Avenue Sagas looks at the potential for pedestrian space under elevated rail lines.