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Obama says “best is yet to come,” but does that include transport?

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
November 07, 2012

A divided Congress. A pending fiscal nightmare scenario. A mountain of national debt. And two increasingly dug-in political parties who seem not to have the word “compromise” in their lexicon.
 
If President Barack Obama thought his re-election campaign was difficult, he will rapidly discover a seemingly overwhelming set of problems facing his second term that will impact the transportation world.
   
By capturing more than 300 electoral votes—easily surpassing the 270 needed to become the nation’s third-straight two-term president—Obama vowed that again in his second term, he would continue to listen to people who may disagree with him and pledged once again to work with Republicans.
 
The same country that delivered the president a second term also has given him a still-divided Congress—Democrats slightly increased their control of the Senate, but the House is safely in Republican hands—at a time when spending priorities are being drawn separately by both parties.
 
Perhaps the one thing that transportation officials and executives throughout the freight transport sector would like most from the president’s second term would be greater spending on the nation’s infrastructure.
 
Though it might be tough to get through a new Congress that convenes in January, the president often mentioned as much during his campaign. When on the stump, President Obama often spoke that “it is time to do a little nation-building at home.” That likely could involve billions of dollars in transport spending.
 
How soon that could happen is anyone’s guess. The pending end-of-year fiscal cliff could include trillions of dollars in automatic tax increases for the wealthy and others and spending cuts, too. But those tax increases could set the country on a more responsible long-term fiscal program that could allow for greater transport spending. The risk is those tax increases could blunt an already shaky and inconsistent economic recovery.
 
During his victory speech on election night in Chicago, the president sounded optimistic, saying: “You, the American people, reminded us that while our road ahead has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.”
 
Obama said that he is “more determined and more inspired than ever” about the work that needs to get done for the country. Some of that could include greater infrastructure spending.
 
Certainly, because of restrained spending during the Great Recession, states and localities have deferred spending on roads and bridges. To the experts who follow this, that deferral has been to our national detriment.
 
The American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that the nation needs to spend $1.7 trillion over the next nine years on its surface transportation network. That’s almost double what is currently on the books. That has cost the nation some $130 billion annually in delays, safety and environmental costs, according to ASCE.
 
Whether the president will go to the mat for transportation during the 113th Congress that convenes in January is an open question. But during a campaign stop in Mentor, Ohio, just before election day the president broached the subject of working more with the Republican-controlled House, saying: “I want to see more cooperation in Washington. And I will work with anybody, of any party, to move this country forward.”
 
On election night, Obama reiterated that promise and sounded optimistic about his second term.
 
“I have never been more hopeful about our future,” he said. “And I ask you to sustain that hope.”

About the Author

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John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.


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