WASHINGTON -- President Obama is scheduled to tour a revived train station in the Midwest on Wednesday to extol the benefits of federal spending on light-rail, roads and bridges as he tries to prod Congress to take up a major transportation bill this year.
During a visit to St. Paul, Minn.'s freshly renovated Union Depot, Obama is to outline a four-year, $302-billion transportation plan, the White House said. If Congress doesn't act to renew infrastructure programs, more than 700,000 jobs will be at risk, Obama plans to say.
The president's warning may be a bit premature. The current transportation law does not expire until the end of September, and lawmakers have begun working on a reauthorization plan. Still, Obama, who has vowed not to be idle while his top legislative priorities sit dormant on Capitol Hill, is eager to show he is engaged.
To be sure, passing a major transportation bill through a divided Congress averse to big, costly legislation has been a considerable challenge in recent years. After the last major law expired in 2009, deficit-focused lawmakers could only pass a series of one-year extensions until July 2012, when they agreed to plan for two years of programs supporting highways, public transit, bridges and other transportation projects.
Obama's four-year proposal would inject $150 billion in one-time funding into projects aimed at tackling what he calls the nation's infrastructure "crisis." That money would come from another long-stalled legislative goal -- an overhaul of the corporate tax system. A White House official, who would not be named discussing the plan in advance of the announcement, said the president would make clear he was not wedded to that plan.
"While the president will show how to fully pay for his proposal in this way, he will also make clear that he is open to ideas and wants to work with Congress in a bipartisan way to get this done," the official said.
Obama has long beat the drum for more infrastructure spending to spark job creation, with mixed success. Congress has repeatedly rejected his plan to create an federal infrastructure bank that could leverage private investment in projects.
On Wednesday, Obama is set to highlight a far more successful initiative. The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant program was created as part of the 2009 stimulus legislation. The grants have sent $3.5 billion to 270 projects across the nation, including the revival of the historic train station in downtown St. Paul.
The depot, which saw the last train leave the station in 1971, is winding down a decade-long, $243-million transformation to a transportation hub for commuter rail, buses and a new light-rail service connecting the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Local officials won about $35 million in federal grants for the renovation project.
Obama is to tour the light-rail maintenance facility as he touts the next round of TIGER grants. Congress approved $600 million for the program -- a 26% increase over fiscal year 2013. The money will be awarded in a competition that will prioritize "transformative" projects, the White House said.
The Department of Transportation will reward projects that increase economic opportunity and "make it easier for Americans to get to jobs, school, and other opportunities, promote neighborhood revitalization and business expansion, and reconnect neighborhoods that are unnaturally divided by physical barriers such as highways and railroads," the White House said.