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Secretary Ray LaHood University of Akron Corrosion Engineering Program

Thank you, Betty, for your generous introduction, your leadership on behalf of Ohio, and your invitation to visit the beautiful campus here at the University of Akron.  Congratulations on the news that the National Center for Education and Research on Corrosion and Materials will be located right here – alongside the nation’s first corrosion engineering program.  It’s a well deserved honor.  And thank you, all, for the warm welcome.

I must say, I’ve learned a lot this morning – and I’m grateful that so many smart people contributed their expertise and ideas to the discussion.  But before we get to the questions and answers, I want to say a few words about how important your work is.

The fact is: This is no ordinary moment in history.  When President Obama and this administration took office, the country was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  The economy was shedding 750,000 jobs every month – 8 million jobs in total.  And because the housing sector collapsed, one of every four jobs lost were in the construction industry. 

At the same time, we also faced a number of infrastructure challenges left mostly unaddressed for decades.  Bridges deteriorated.  Highways crumbled.  Pipelines aged and weakened.  You know the numbers better than anyone.  According to the FHWA’s landmark report on the topic, corrosion takes a $280 billion toll on our economy each and every year.  Clearly we had our hands full.
But since President Obama recognized that America has both workers who need jobs and jobs that need doing, he designed an economic plan that’s addressing these twin crises at the same time.  Through the Recovery Act, we put Americans back to work repairing bridges and repaving highways.  We’re on track to hit 3.5 million Recovery Act jobs by the end of the year –
more than 160,000 of which have already come from DOT managed programs.  After 22 straight months of job losses, we’ve seen our economy create private sector jobs for eight months in a row.  And each new job generates a powerful economic ripple effect – as contractors and start buying new supplies and hiring new employees; as workers start spending more money and their families start shopping or going out to eat again; and as small businesses start purchasing more inventory and hiring additional staff.

Now, building on our momentum, the president announced his vision for America’s new long-term infrastructure plan last week.  He committed to rebuilding 150,000 additional miles of roads – enough to circle the Earth six times.  He committed to laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of track – some for transit, some for freight, some for high speed rail – enough to stretch from coast to coast.  And he committed to restoring 150 miles of runways and putting in place a next generation air-traffic control system that will reduce travel time and delays.  As we speak, we’re working with the bipartisan leadership of Congress to iron out the details.  But this plan will bring jobs to our economy now.  It will be fully paid for – without running up the deficit.  And it will invest in economic opportunity and competitiveness by ensuring that America’s infrastructure is in a state of good repair.

Your study is – and will be – a crucial part of that effort.  That’s why I’m so proud that DOT, Federal Highways, and PHMSA are able to support your essential research.  We need young people to become transportation engineers and professionals.  We need you to tell us:
how to prevent bridges from deteriorating; how to extend the life of our roads and highways; how to address decay in our underground pipelines; how to inspect and evaluate corrosion when it does occur.  And it wouldn’t hurt if you joined Betty Sutton and me in explaining to your representatives in Washington exactly why President Obama’s infrastructure plan matters.

It’s an investment in the roads, railways, and runways that connect us with school, work, health care, friends, and family.  It’s an investment in America’s future.  So, thank you again for your good ideas and hard work.  We’re counting on you.

And with that, I’ll be happy to take your questions.

Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
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