Thank you, Mary, for that wonderful introduction – and for being such a powerful ambassador for Bradley University. Thank you, Brad, for hosting this important symposium. And thank you, all, for the warm welcome home.
I’m mostly looking forward to having a conversation – to taking everyone’s questions and talking about your concerns. But since this is a gathering focused on the future of infrastructure in Peoria and across the Midwest, I thought I would start by sharing a little about what we’re doing to get America’s economy moving again.
When President Obama was sworn in, the economy was shedding 750,000 jobs every month – 8 million jobs in total – amidst the worst recession since the Great Depression. Too many Americans are still struggling. Too many Americans are still unemployed. And too many Americans are still feeling the pain of this terrible economy.
We’re also facing a number of infrastructure challenges left mostly unaddressed for decades. Peoria is ahead of the trend – whether we’re talking about I-74, the Illinois River Scenic Byway program, our new bike trails, or the new Peoria Airport terminal.
But if you look across the country, you’ll see roads, bridges, and transit systems that are overburdened and obsolete. These aren’t Republican or Democratic problems. They’re American problems. So, President Obama developed and deployed an economic plan that builds bridges between Americans who need jobs and jobs that need doing.
The Recovery Act – the most significant public works program since President Roosevelt’s New Deal – was step one. Say what you want about it. But investment in America’s infrastructure was the one part of the Recovery Act that everyone agrees was a huge success. And the way I know is that when I attend ribbon cuttings and ground breakings all across the country, Democrats and Republicans both show up – regardless of whether they voted for the bill or not. The way I know is that everyplace I visit, workers come up to me and say “thank you” for getting them back to the jobsite – or “thank you” for the peace of mind that follows from knowing they have a reason to put on their boots in the morning.
You see, there’s no such thing as a Democratic or Republican bridge – and there’s no such thing as a Democratic or Republican job. Our infrastructure belongs to all of us. Job creation is everyone’s number one priority.
Look what the Recovery Act is doing in Illinois and across America. You can see the orange cones and barrels everywhere. It’s financed almost 15,000 transportation projects nationwide. It’s improving 40,000 miles of roadways. And it’s laying groundwork for a national high speed rail network that, within 25 years, will give 80 percent of Americans the option of traveling from city to city by high speed train.
Through these investments, we’ve already produced or protected hundreds of thousands of jobs. After 22 straight months of job losses, the president’s economic plan has now yielded ten consecutive months of private sector job growth. It’s created more than 1 million private sector jobs during 2010. And it has brought our economy back from the brink of collapse.
Of course, we have a lot more work to do. There are still millions of Americans who need and want work but can’t find it. While some sectors of the economy have shown improvement, others continue to struggle. And as the President has said many times, “the only piece of economic news that people want to hear is ‘you’re hired.’”
We know, for example, that nearly one in five construction workers is still unemployed at a time when so many of the roads and bridges we use every day have fallen into disrepair. That’s why, on Labor Day, the president unveiled his vision for the future of America’s transportation system – starting with a $50 billion upfront investment in these very roads and bridges. Through this plan, the president committed to rebuilding 150,000 additional miles of pavement. He committed to putting in place a next generation air-traffic control system that will reduce travel time and delays. And he committed to laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of track – some for freight, some for transit, and some for high speed passenger rail.
Today, we’re in the same place with high speed rail as we were with interstate highways during President Eisenhower’s administration. Just like with interstates during the 1950s, we haven’t yet drawn all the lines on the map. Just like with interstates during the 1950s, we don’t yet know what every financing agreement will look like.
But I believe this: In less time than it took to plan and pave America’s interstate system, you’ll see high speed trains shuttle significant numbers of passengers across the Midwest – a tribute to Governor Quinn and others. And all along the tracks we’ll witness the boon that follows: economic development, job-creation, and a powerful ripple effect that helps countless local businesses.
Now, each element of the transportation bill – roads, runways, and railways – will be fully paid for without raising the deficit. They will bring employment opportunities to our economy now. They will create an environment in which contractors can plan, bid, and build. They will provide communities like ours the chance to identify the projects most important to them and then access the resources to bring them to life. When Congress gets back to business, we’ll work with bipartisan leaders to iron out the details.
But all of this reflects a fundamental recognition: Americans can still build great things not just in spite of enormous economic challenges, but as the means of overcoming them. In America’s first century, we carved the Erie Canal and connected the coasts with the transcontinental railroad. In our second century, we built our interstate highways and the roads and bridges that are still lifelines of our economy. Each succeeding American generation has demonstrated the foresight and courage to invest in the most important infrastructure projects of their time. We can do no less.
Together, we will invest in the roads, railways, and runways that connect us with school, work, friends, and family. We will invest in job-creation here in Illinois and across the country. We will invest in economic opportunity. And we will invest in America’s future.
Thank you very much.