In a town hall meeting organized to push for passage of the economic stimulus package, President Barack Obama responded to a question from a City Council Member from Bonita Springs, Florida, saying that the stimulus funding will be used to innovate in transportation planning in a way that will yield better long term solutions. The exchange happens after the 54 minute mark in the C-SPAN video of the event.
Bonita Springs City Council Member: “Cities throughout Florida are having a difficult time because of the mortgage crisis. Growth has slowed. We fund our transportation infrastructure needs through impact fees. Now that we’re not getting that, we’re falling behind in our ability to keep up with road work, municipal water projects, being able to bring solar panels down here to an inland port. We need commuter rail. We need lots of things for infrastructure in this state. If we ran out of oil today, we would not be able to move in this state, to get around. And I hope that you turn that thing around in the Gulf, we don’t want to drill for oil in the Gulf. We’ve got a beautiful pristine state, so I am asking you, how will we get our state going again in transportation? I’m very worried about our dependence on foreign oil and I don’t want to drill in our Gulf. I want some commuter rail and I want to improve our transportation.”
President Obama: “Well, We have targeted billions of dollars at infrastructure spending and states all across the country are going through what Florida’s going through. There was a study done by the American Association of Engineers - that might not be the exact title, engineers from all across the country [Editor’s note - The exact title is the American Society of Civil Engineers]. We get a D for infrastructure all across the country. We saw what happened in Minneapolis where a bridge collapsed and resulted in tragedy. Not only do we need to rebuild our roads, our bridges, our ports, our levies, our dams, but we also have to plan for the future. This is the same example of turning crisis into opportunity. This should be a wake up call for us. You go to Shanghai, China right now and they’ve got high speed rail that puts our rail to shame. They’ve got ports that are state of the art. Their airports are… you know compared to the airports that we - you go through Beijing airport and you compare that to Miami airport?
Now, look, this is America. We always had the best infrastructure. We were always willing to invest in the future. Governor Crist mentioned Abraham Lincoln. In the middle of the Civil War, in the midst of all this danger and peril, what did he do? He helped move the intercontinental railroad. He helped start land grant colleges. He understood that even when you’re in the middle of crisis, you’ve got to keep your eye on the future. So transportation is not just fixing our old transportation systems but it’s also imaging new transportation systems. That’s why I’d like to see high speed rail where it can be constructed. That’s why I would like to invest in mass transit because potentially that’s energy efficient and I think people are a lot more open now to thinking regionally in terms of how we plan our transportation infrastructure. The days of just building sprawl forever, those days are over. I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody recognizes that that’s not a smart way to build communities. So we should be using this money to help spur this kind of innovative thinking when it comes to transportation. That will make a big difference.”
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