The infrastructure focus coincided with the release of a report from the Treasury Department, "An Economic Analysis of Infrastructure Investment."
After meeting with some of his Cabinet secretaries, along with a bipartisan group of former secretaries of Transportation, mayors and governors who have come together in support of infrastructure investment, the president spoke in the White House Rose Garden on the depth of the problem.
Obama was joined by two former Transportation Secretaries of both political parties: Sam Skinner, who served under President George H.W. Bush; and Norm Mineta, who served in the Cabinets of both President Clinton and President George W. Bush.
"For years, we have deferred tough decisions, and today, our aging system of highways and byways, air routes and rail lines hinder our economic growth," Obama said. "Our roads, clogged with traffic, cost us $80 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel.... And in some cases, our crumbling infrastructure costs American lives. It should not take another collapsing bridge or failing levee to shock us into action.
"What's more, the longer our infrastructure erodes, the deeper our competitive edge erodes. Other nations understand this. They are going all-in. Today, as a percentage of GDP, we invest less than half of what Russia does in their infrastructure, less than one-third of what Western Europe does. Right now, China's building hundreds of thousands of miles of new roads..... Everywhere else, they're thinking big. They're creating jobs today, but they're also playing to win tomorrow. So the bottom line is our shortsightedness has come due. We can no longer afford to sit still."
Obama talked about a plan that would rebuild 150,000 miles of roads -- enough to circle the world six times -- and lay and maintain 4,000 miles of railways and restore 150 miles of runways.
Although he insisted that the plan would be "fully paid for" and would "not add to our deficit over time," the speech was short on specifics on where the money for this would come from, other than "an infrastructure bank to leverage federal dollars and focus on the smartest investments," and through consolidating and collapsing more than 100 different, often duplicative programs.
"And it will change the way Washington works by reforming the federal government's patchwork approach of funding and maintaining our infrastructure. We've got to focus less on wasteful earmarks, outdated formulas."
Some speculated that in order to fund the administration's plans, there will have to be a hike in the federal fuel tax. But the White House says it wants to fund the $50 billion investment by closing tax loopholes for oil and gas companies.
The AAA has estimated that the nearly $500 billion, six-year transportation budget being drafted in the House Transportation Committee would require about a 25-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase to fund it.