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Oberstar urges road plan

An effort to free up a five-year, $500 billion major transportation bill, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar on Tuesday pushed the White House for increased infrastructure funding.

On the eve of President Barack Obama's White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth, Oberstar in a letter strongly urged more transportation funding, saying projects create family-wage jobs and can create them quickly.

Oberstar, DFL-8th District, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, co-authored the letter with Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., which urges Obama to support legislation to invest in roads and bridges.

Obama has told Oberstar to put off the major transportation bill until next year, wanting Congress instead to focus on health care reform. But Oberstar has set his sights on passing the bill before Congress adjourns this month.

"We write to emphasize the need to increase investment provided by highway and transit formula programs as a way to create and sustain family-wage jobs, contribute to our nation's long-term economic growth, and help the United States recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression," the letter begins.

The two chairmen pointed to data collected by the committee on the progress made so far under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ... has already resulted in almost 7,900 highway and transit projects breaking ground all across the nation," sttes the letter. "These projects have created or sustained more than 210,000 direct, on-project jobs, as well as hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs in the past nine months."

According to a report issued Tuesday by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, there are 7,497 ready-to-go highway and bridge projects, totaling $47.3 billion, Oberstar and DeFazio note. Also, the American Public Transportation Association says there are more than $15 billion of ready-to-go transit projects.

The state highway organization "believes that, if job creation legislation is enacted by Jan. 1, most of these projects will have workers on job sites by early spring 2010," Oberstar and DeFazio write. "The Recovery Act was just an initial step toward creating jobs and livable communities."

The hail the Recovery Act investments in transportation, saying that of $34.3 billion provided for highway and transit programs, $24.5 billion or 71 percent has been put out to bid on 10,329 projects as of Oct. 31. Of that, 8,871 projects totaling $20.2 billion are under contract.

"Across the nation, work has begun on 7,886 projects totaling $18.6 billion - that is more than one half of the total available highway and transit formula funds," they wrote.

Beyond the funds provided by the Recovery Act, additional highway and transit projects totaling more than $62 billion are ready to go to construction in the next few months.

"To offset the continued rise in construction unemployment, the collapse of the private construction market, and state budget crises that limit states' ability to finance highway and transit projects, we must act now to provide additional investments for ready-to-go highway and transit projects," the letter states.