President Obama used a speech in Milwaukee earlier this month to announce a $50 billion initiative designed to jump-start job creation by expanding and renewing the nation's transportation infrastructure. The chief beneficiaries are slated to be the Three Rs—roads, railways, and runways.
The plan, which is outlined on The White House Blog, calls for the following programs:
• Roads. Rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads nationwide, thereby "renewing our commitment to the backbone of our transportation system."
• Railways. Constructing and maintaining 4,000 miles of rail.
• Runways. Rehabilitating or reconstructing 150 miles of airport runway, while implementing the Next Generation Air Transportation System—known as "NextGen"—to modernize the air traffic control system and reduce travel time and delays.
Specifics of the plan include:• Establishment of an Infrastructure Bank to provide investments for projects "that often fall through the cracks in the current siloed transportation programs," according to the White House
• A sustained and effective commitment to a national high speed rail system over the next generation
• Streamlining, modernizing, and prioritizing surface transportation investments
• Expanding investments in areas such as safety, environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, and livability
As for NextGen, the Obama Administration proposes "a robust investment" in modernizing air traffic control and moving from a national ground-based radar surveillance system to a satellite-based surveillance system.Perhaps the toughest task for President Obama will be tackling those "silos" separating transportation funding, since even federal government agencies are forced to share scarce dollars meant for competing modes such as highways, rail, and air. This was recognized when an organization representing the nation's corporate travelers, the National Business Travel Association, stated: "While NBTA understands concerns with federal spending, this plan must be viewed as an investment with a certain return. Our air traffic control system is antiquated, and now is the time for this country to firmly commit to NextGen—a modern, world-class air travel system that will allow us to build for the future."
As a member of the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee tasked by U.S. Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood with addressing the many challenges facing the nation's commercial aviation industry, I can testify to the many hours spent discussing NextGen. Modernizing the nation's air traffic control infrastructure is an issue that cuts across several key platforms—it will enhance safety, improve efficiency, reduce delays and congestion, and lessen aviation's carbon footprint. In Washington, as well as in the aviation industry, there is widespread support for NextGen; in fact, what's not to support? The only sticking point, of course, is how NextGen will be funded, and the FAAC is struggling with that very question.—William J. McGee