Remarks By Secretary Of Transportation Ray Lahood And Vice President Joseph Biden During A Recovery Act Implementation Meeting
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SEC. LAHOOD: Well, thank you, Mr. Vice President. Thanks for holding our feet to the fire. I'm proud to report that the Department of Transportation has been enormously successful in putting the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to work for our nation.
Within the first five months, we have made $19 billion -- roughly 40 percent of our recovery funds -- available to all 50 states and three territories. We've made more money available to states more quickly than any of our routine programs. The highway portion alone is flowing at a rate of nearly $4 billion a month. The funds we've obligated so far have flipped the switch for more than 5,300 projects to repair/rebuild roads, bridges, airport facilities, transit districts and seaports. More than 1,900 of these projects are now under way. And as we reach the height of the summer construction season, we expect more work will begin.
The recovery act is having a significant impact on our ability to improve surface transportation and aviation facilities. At this point, for example, the FAA has made nearly all of its $1.1 billion in recovery funds available to 325 airport projects. In highway, we are -- have made more than half of its $26 billion available for more than 4,900 projects.
One of the bright spots, we've discovered, is that many transportation projects, as the vice president said, are coming in under budget and ahead of schedule. And all around the countries, state DOTs are routinely receiving lower-than-expected bids for highway and airport construction projects. This allows states to stretch taxpayer dollar(s), plan additional projects, and put more people back to work.
Thanks to our strong partnership with the state DOTs -- lookit, we couldn't do this if it wasn't for our relationship with the state DOT and regional stakeholders. Every single state has not only met the congressional deadline to obligate 50 percent of their highway recovery funds within 120 days, they all beat it.
They're -- through our recovery plan, we're moving full speed ahead now with plans to invest in new, revitalized inner-city and high-speed rail thanks to this fellow here -- (laughter) --
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: (Laughs.)
SEC. LAHOOD: -- and our boss, President Obama. The vice president and I held a White House roundtable on this, and the rail -- our rail administrators met with stakeholders around the country. We've used that input to prepare release guidance for the $8 billion in competitive funds that will be available for initial rail corridor projects. We're moving fast on this. Applications are due by August 24th, and we'll begin the award process in mid-September.
We also encourage state DOTs to team up with local transportation providers and others to compete for $1.5 billion in discretionary money.
We're looking for creative, multimodal projects that promote greater mobility, a cleaner environment and more livable communities. And we're working with Lisa Jackson and Shaun Donovan on that.
Again, I want to encourage people to get us their applications by September 15th. We'll make awards by or before mid-February 2010.
When all is said and done, the vice president and I both know you cannot measure the impact of the recovery act just by numbers. It's also about people and communities -- for example, the people of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where the vice president and Secretary Sebelius were recently presenting a check for -- to replace an 80- year-old bridge; in Johnson County, Kansas, for the expansion of a highway; in Phoenix, Arizona, for our ability to get a light rail extension that leads right into the airport. These investments are making transportation safer, more efficient and better for the environment. Most importantly, they're providing good jobs for construction workers, engineers, office workers and many others at a time when help is most needed.
Traveling with the vice president, I have seen -- we have seen the heavy equipment moving onto roadways and airport runways, making repairs that have been on hold for months or years because the money wasn't available. We've spoken with contractors and other employees and employers who are seriously worried about whether they could survive. And I've met many breadwinners across the country, in New Hampshire, people with families, people who were out of work, people who came off unemployment rolls. The recovery act has made a huge difference. Americans in cities and towns across the country know it's working, putting skilled workers back on the job and making long overdue improvements to our aging transportation infrastructure.
Our economy may have slowed down, but our willingness to try and make a difference has not. When we look back on this effort years from now, the record will show that President Obama and Vice President Biden provided the real medicine, the right medicine at the right time to help a workforce that's been struggling, and to revitalize our transportation corridors everywhere.
We're going to keep this going. There are still many, many projects to be funded; jobs to be created; roads, bridges, airports and seaports that we're going to leave in better shape than we found them. And we'll continue to make sure that we spend every last dollar available wisely on transportation projects that help our communities become more livable and more sustainable.
Thank you, sir.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Look, one more -- thank you, Ray.
One of the things that is working the fastest and best -- beyond the formula grants like for FMAP, which is saving states, and the counter- cyclical stuff that's going on, and the unemployment insurance, and the tax cut for 95 percent of the people who are getting more cash in their paycheck as a consequence of less withholding -- is one of the things you guys have done -- and you've got to keep doing it -- remember when the Conference of Mayors held up this big thing and said, you know, these are the projects that we want and are going to get funded, and so on and so forth; then you saw the news accounts? Well, we went -- you guys went through this. We didn't fund -- we virtually funded nothing in this thing. There's no -- you know, this is about -- we heard about skateboard parks and aquariums and zoos and -- you know, this did not get funded.
And then, you guys -- thank goodness, you were on your toes when Senator Coburn -- who's a first-rate senator, a good guy -- he holds up this report, you know, a hundred projects that are wasting money; he lists projects. Forty-nine of them, he was just dead-wrong on. For example, he says Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is spending $550,000 on a skateboard park. False. We turned down the application. You guys turned down these applications. And the other ones that, in fact, a lot of the remaining 50 or so he listed, he just is just dead-wrong about their value. He lists the project in Kansas as, you know, that interchange. An interchange; like, you know, it's a -- wasteful money.
So look, guys, it's important. I just -- I know I'm a pain in the neck about this, from day one. It is important. The dog hasn't barked yet. Don't let him bark. We've got to make sure that you do what you did.
And the other thing is, keep listening, too. I know sometimes you wonder when the congressmen or local officials call you about stuff. Because of local officials, Republican and Democrat, in New York State -- the Corps was going to do a job on Lake Onondaga. They decided it was useful to send out pamphlets to everybody. I don't know if they were going to air-drop them, or hand them out, or how they were going to do it. It was 123,000 bucks. You got notice from local officials: Hey, does this make sense? We stopped it in 24 hours. Saved 124,000 bucks.
And so, this is the kind of stuff. I know it consumes a lot of your staffs' time. I know it. But let me tell you something. If we didn't, if we funded these suckers, if we had funded this stuff, this whole thing would be coming to a screeching halt.
And so, please, I can't emphasize enough: You've done a great job; keep it -- keep the fear of God in the folks we are dealing with, to let them know it not only has to pass the legal test of qualifying; it has to pass the smell test. Swimming pools don't pass smell tests. Skateboard parks don't do it.
Even if they employ people, they don't do it.
So keep it up. That's the only point I wanted to make. We've got to get down to some work on some of this other stuff. I thank you all for being here.
I can tell you what this is going to supply. I can't give you a projection on when the total monthly numbers for unemployment -- there's always a trough. Every major recession, unemployment takes a longer time to catch up, even after the GDP begins to grow.
It's just a fact of life. It's a fact of economic life. But I can tell you one thing. The unemployment numbers would be a lot higher were it not for this legislation. And again I want to make it clear.
We do not measure less bad as success. But we do measure the impact of this legislation as having a real, wide, important impact on people's lives and on the economy, because we'd be a lot worse off were we not doing this.
But I can't tell you. You'd better check with Ms. Romer and the Council of Economic Advisers and the secretary of the Treasury and all those other folks who -- we're optimistic. But it's going to be a while.