Obama hits road for transportation funding push

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President Barack Obama shakes hands with Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, left, next to Biden's wife Hallie Biden, far left, and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell as he arrives at New Castle Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., Thursday, July 17, 2014, en route to Wilmington where he is expected to visit the site of the damaged I-495 bridge in Wilmington to speak about transportation and infrastructure. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — With federal transportation funding about to run dry, President Barack Obama is taking steps to boost the flow of private dollars into public works projects.

The new initiative is designed to encourage collaboration between state and local governments and private-sector investors, expand the market for public-private partnerships and make greater use of federal credit programs. Obama was to announce the initiative in Delaware, using the recently closed I-495 bridge at the Port of Wilmington as a backdrop.

The bridge was closed indefinitely last month after four support columns were found to be tilting, forcing 90,000 daily drivers to find another way through downtown Wilmington. Officials think a mountain of dirt that was dumped there by a contractor caused soil beneath the bridge columns to shift.

Obama's trip is part of a broader effort to press Congress to keep money flowing into the Highway Trust Fund, the source of federal aid to states for surface transportation projects. The fund is expected to begin running out of money next month unless lawmakers act.

Before going to the port, Obama stopped at the Charcoal Pit for a cheeseburger lunch with Tanei Benjamin, the single mother of a 6-year-old daughter who wrote him a letter last year about her personal situation. The White House said that after reading Benjamin's letter, Obama sent it to his senior staff with a note at the bottom that said: "This is the person we are working for." Obama has been meeting with the authors of some of the 10 letters he reads nightly, part of a White House push to get him out of Washington and interacting with everyday people.

The Republican-controlled House passed a temporary transportation funding bill this week to keep aid flowing to states through next May, after the midterm elections. A similar bill is pending in the Senate, though the chamber's Democratic leaders are expected to vote next week on the House-passed measure.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx welcomed the progress on Capitol Hill, but said a short-term solution "is still insufficient to solve our crisis."

Obama supports a short-term fix because he said it will keep construction crews on the job and their projects on track, but he has devoted most of his public appearances this week to pressing Congress to either approve his four-year, $302 billion transportation proposal or come up with an alternative long-term funding measure.

Congress must act before its August recess begins in fewer than two weeks. Lawmakers have kept the fund teetering on the edge of bankruptcy since 2008 through a series of temporary patches because they cannot agree on a politically acceptable, long-term funding solution.

From Delaware, Obama was traveling to New York City to raise campaign money at separate events for the Democratic Party and the House Majority PAC, which tries to help Democrats win House seats. The events were being held at separate private homes in Manhattan and were to be closed to media coverage.


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