Remarks by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: April 13, 2009
Location: Washington, DC




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SEC. LAHOOD: Good morning, everybody. Please be seated.

Well, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for coming back. Again a history-making event for us here, at DOT, to have both of you back here again.

And I want to say a special welcome, to these construction workers behind us, because they represent the best, not only of this area but the best for America, in terms of our ability to really rebuild the country and provide good-paying jobs. So we're grateful to them for being here too.

There are few times in our nation's history when a brand-new law can make a positive impact on people's lives within a matter of weeks. That's just what the American reinvestment recovery act has done.

Over the last six weeks, the Department of Transportation has moved more swiftly than people thought possible, to make nearly all of its $48 billion in recovery funds available to every state and territory.

All across the country, we're putting people back to work; making much needed repairs and upgrades to our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports and seaports. We're also investing in bus and rail projects to make it easier for people to get to and from work. The Federal Transit Administration is making $1.4 billion in recovery funds available for transit projects our communities have been waiting for for a long time.

There is much, much more to come. We're empowering states to invest in projects that improve our quality of life, revitalize the transportation we rely on every day and put people to work. And because construction bids are coming in lower than expected, our recovery dollars will go further and we can do more projects. This is great news: more projects, more jobs.

But this isn't only about getting money out the door quickly. It's about making sure that every dollar is spent wisely. American taxpayers can and should hold us accountable for how these funds are invested. Our tiger team, made up of senior officials from all across the department, is doing just that. They're following the money, and they're making sure that honesty and transparency are built into the process. In fact, the reporting requirements for projects funded by the Recovery Act are more rigorous than almost anything we have attempted before.

And all of this activity will set the stage for a major new transportation bill later this year which will enable us to rewrite the rules for the future of transportation in this country. As Congress tackles this new legislation, we're going to make sure that new and creative solutions are included that help fight climate change, allow communities to afford alternatives to driving and offer taxpayers a strong return on their investment.

I'm very encouraged by the progress we've made so far to put our recovery dollars to work. And I look forward to working closely with Congress on finding new ways to build and finance our transportation needs. Working together, our government and the American people can restore our competitive edge, recapture our can-do spirit and give us all renewed hope for a brighter future.

And I want to thank personally the vice president for including us in his tour around the country, and his efforts to assist our department in highlighting the many things that we are doing, and for his full partnership with the American people and the president. And it's my privilege to introduce the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden.

Mr. Vice President. (Applause.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Mr. President.

I think the secretary perfectly summed up at his confirmation hearing what we're doing here, and I want to quote him. He said, "The most compelling reason for infrastructure investment is an economic, it is -- excuse me. It is the listing of not only economic but social benefits that we have brought as a consequence of decades -- for decades and for generations."

The bottom line is what we're doing here is not just for today. It's going to last well beyond this time. And that's exactly why we're here.

The Recovery Act is being implemented with speed, transparency and accountability. And don't take my word for it. Just look at what's happening here today. We're creating -- not only creating new jobs; we're saving jobs that were about to be put on hold; we're making it easier for folks to get to work, those who have a job; and we're improving the nation's infrastructure all at the same time.

Just eight weeks into this, we're already seeing -- beginning to see exactly how the Recovery Act and the Department of Transportation are building the economy of the future and making life better for communities everywhere, not just in Maryland and Virginia, which we're going to talk about here.

In Virginia, the Department of Transportation is already bidding $176 million for paving, bridge and -- road and bridge projects funded by the Recovery Act, with another $75 million of highway jobs expected later this week.

In Missouri, by late March, 1.5 million (dollars) in Recovery Act funds had already been awarded to Missouri construction companies to provide gravel to the Forest Service roads damaged by extreme weather over the past few years.

I see stories like this everywhere I go, and Ray and I have been going around the country pointing this out.

Around this country, we're making deep investments in our infrastructure, making sure it's sound, secure and able to handle the full-speed-ahead progress that this economy has under way now. We're stimulating billions of dollars in economic activity. We're creating millions of new jobs and breaking ground on a brighter economic future.

Folks, the road to recovery must quite literally be repaved. And with the leadership of Secretary LaHood and President Barack Obama, we're doing just that. Each and every day, we're making that road a little bit smoother and much easier to travel.

And ladies and gentlemen, it's now my pleasure to introduce the president of the United States, Barack Obama. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, everybody.

I hope everybody had a wonderful Easter. I just came from the Easter Egg Roll, and it was a spectacular -- spectacular outing. All the kids were out there having fun, and it reminds us of why we do the work we do.

Before I discuss the purpose of my visit to the Department of Transportation today, I want to take a moment to say how pleased I am about the rescue of Captain Phillips and his safe return to the -- (applause) -- USS Boxer this weekend. His safety has been our principal concern. And I know this came as a welcome relief to his family and his crew. I had a chance to talk to his wife yesterday. And as she put it, she couldn't imagine a better Easter than seeing his safe return.

And I am very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military and many other departments and agencies that worked tirelessly to resolve this situation. I share our nation's admiration for Captain Phillips' courage and leadership and selfless concern for his crew.

And I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of privacy (sic\means piracy) in that region. And to achieve that goal, we're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks. We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise. And we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes.

Now, as we work to ensure America's safety out on the seas, I want to discuss what we're doing to restore economic security here at home, to revitalize our nation's infrastructure and create good jobs across America. It has been nearly three months since I first took office. And I think it's fair to say that we've been a little busy. (Laughter.) Faced with an extraordinary economic crisis, we've responded with extraordinary action, action that's both unprecedented in scale and unprecedented in its speed. We developed plans to stabilize our housing market, to unfreeze our credit markets, and to ensure the survival of our auto industry in this new century. We passed a budget that cuts our deficit in half while making investments to spur long-term growth and lasting prosperity.

And because we know that people are hurting right now and we need to create jobs and get money into people's pockets right mow, we passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the most sweeping economic recovery plan in history, a plan to save or create 3.5 million jobs putting Americans back to work doing the work America needs done, and to give a tax cut to 95 percent of working Americans.

Today I think it's safe to say that this plan is beginning to work. We see it in the clean-energy companies rehiring workers, in police departments cancelling planned layoffs, in health-care clinics planning to expand to care for more folks in need. We see it in the 120 million families who are already taking home larger paychecks because of our Making Work Pay tax cut.

And we see it particularly in the work of this department, in the plans under way to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges, modernize our airports and shipyards, develop high-speed rail networks and restore aging public transit system. All told, we are making the largest new investment in America's infrastructure since President Eisenhower built the interstate highway system back in the 1950s.

But what is most remarkable about this effort, and what I'm here to talk about today, isn't just the size of our investment or the number of projects we're investing in, it's how quickly, efficiently and responsibly those investments have been made. Today, because these projects are getting approved more quickly than we thought, thanks to, in large part, the outstanding work of the tiger team and folks here at the Department of Transportation, and because these projects are costing less than we thought, we can utter a sentence rarely heard in recent years: This government effort is coming in ahead of schedule and under budget. (Applause.)

Think about it. We passed the recovery plan less than two months ago. Two weeks later, I came here to DOT to announce that we would be investing $28 billion to rebuild and repair our highways, roads and bridges. Work on the very first project, resurfacing Route 650 in Silver Springs (sic), Maryland, began that very same day.

People who'd been out of a job found themselves being called back to work.

And some of the crews are here today. And we want to thank them. And we're proud of them, because they're -- they're making the road safer and some of your commutes a little bit better. And at the same time, they're doing what they've always done, working really hard to support their families and living out the American dream. So -- (applause) -- we appreciate you guys.

About a week later, we had approved 500 more projects. Two weeks after that, we had approved another 1,000 projects. And today, I'm proud to announce that we have approved the 2,000th project, a project to widen an interstate and rebuild an overpass in Portage, Michigan, improving safety, reducing congestion and boosting local businesses. This project will start this summer, creating an estimated 900 jobs right away. And it will go until 2011, creating nearly twice that many jobs altogether before it's finished.

So I want to acknowledge Governor Granholm, both for her leadership on this project and for her tireless work to strengthen Michigan's economy. And I'm pleased that Joe Biden, who's overseeing our recovery efforts, will be attending the groundbreaking for this project in June.

Now, some may have thought it would take months to get to this point, but in part because of the hard work and commitment of the people in this department, we approved these 2,000 projects in just 41 days.

So taken together, these projects will reduce the congestion that costs us nearly $80 billion a year. It will save some of the 14,000 people who lose their lives each year because of bad roads and driving conditions. It will create good jobs that pay well and can't be shipped overseas.

By the end of next year, our investment in highway projects alone will create or save 150,000 jobs -- I want to repeat that -- 150,000 jobs, most of them in the private sector. I'm pleased that work on some of these projects has already started, and that many more will be under way by this summer.

But I want to be very clear that while we're doing this with speed, we're also doing it with care. We've acted quickly, because our economy -- losing hundreds of thousands of jobs each month means we don't have a minute to waste. And we've acted with care, because we don't have a single taxpayer dollar to waste, either.

And that's why I -- I appointed a proven and aggressive inspector general to root out waste and fraud.

That's why we created a website called, so you can see exactly where your tax dollars are going. And soon you'll be able to click on the transportation section and track the progress of every project under way.

And that's why I'm pleased to hear that in state after state, across America, competition for these projects is so fierce, and contractors are doing such a good job cutting costs, that projects are consistently coming in under budget.

The final bid for one road project in Connecticut was $8.4 million less than the state budgeted for. Another one in Louisiana was $4.7 million less. A project at BWI Airport will be completed for $8 million less than expected.

Bids for projects in North Carolina have been 19 percent under budget. Colorado is reporting bids up to 30 percent less than they expected. And the officials in California have seen bids that are close to half as much as they had projected.

And because these projects are proceeding so efficiently, we now have more recovery dollars to go around. And that means we can fund more projects, revitalize more of our infrastructure, put more people back to work and ensure that taxpayers get more value for their dollars.

Now, I have no illusion about how much work lies ahead and how hard it will be. The road to recovery is long. We will undoubtedly make some mistakes. We'll face some setbacks along the way.

There will be some projects that don't work the way we want them to. But it is now clear that we're heading in the right direction. It's now clear that day by day, project by project, we are making progress. We're doing what we've always done in this country.

As President Johnson said more than 40 years ago, when he signed the legislation creating this department, the Department of Transportation, America's history is a history of her transportation, of railroads that pushed frontiers and waterways and highways that opened up markets, airplanes that connected us to one another and to the world.

Throughout our history, there have been times when a generation of Americans seized the chance to remake the face of this nation. And this is one of those times. And that's what we're doing today, building a 21st-century infrastructure that will create jobs, spur growth, and sustain an economy that creates shared and lasting prosperity.

So thank you to the folks here at DOT. You're doing an outstanding job. Thanks to Ray LaHood for being a terrific leader of the department. Thank you to Joe Biden for helping to drive this thing home. And thanks to all the workers who are standing behind us.

We don't want to keep them too long. They've already got their hard hats. (Laughter.) They're going to go straight into their cars. And they're going to go back to work. So thank you, everybody. (Applause.)


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