Obama to reveal $300B transportation plan at Union Depot

Obama reveals $300B transportation plan at Union Depot in St. Paul

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

President Barack Obama delivered remarks at St. Paul's Union Depot on Wednesday afternoon as he unveiled a $300-billion transportation infrastructure plan that cited the Depot's renovation as an example of how federal spending can made available through competitive grants.

"I was like, 'This is balmy! This is great!" Obama said, noting the typically unfavorable reactions to the Minnesota cold.

PHOTOS: Air Force One lands at MSP

Obama spent the afternoon in St. Paul as part of what he's calling his "Year of Action" tour -- and he is calling on Congress to act on his proposal to update the nation's infrastructure and create jobs.

The plan would allow cities and states to come up with innovative transportation projects, and the Union Depot became a symbolic example. Its $243-million renovation was completed just last year, and the project boasted nearly 1,200 construction jobs.

PHOTOS: Obama speaks at Union Depot

"Any opportunity agenda begins with creating good jobs, and one of the fastest ways to create good jobs is rebuilding America's infrastructure," Obama said. "Our roads, our bridges, our rails, our ports -- we've got a lot to do out here and we've got to put our folks to work."

The goal is to repair the nation's transportation system and create job in the process. To do that, Obama announced $600 million in transportation funding via TIGER grants -- a competitive funding plan that allows cities and states to partner with the federal government on projects.

A priority would be placed on projects that make it easier for people to get to and from work and school while promoting business expansion. The same type of grant was used to refurbish the Union Depot. A total of $35 million was allocated to that project. 

"These grants are helping cities like Los Angeles and states like North Carolina, and they helped you rebuild this depot into a hub that will bring different modes of transportation under one roof instead of scattered across the city," Obama highlighted. "Amtrak will be here, the new Green Line will be here, bus lines will be here."

The old Union Depot is a case study in re purposing old infrastructure for 21st-century use, and Obama said it is a model for the type of project the TIGER grants will enable.

"This is the beginning, not the end. We've got a lot more rail we've got to lay; we've got a lot more roads we've got to travel. Let's get going, Minnesota," Obama said.

SHORT SPEECH, LONG BUS DELAYS

As far as speeches go, Wednesday's was one of Obama's shorter ones. He spoke for only about 20 minutes, but Metro Transit bus riders complained of long delays that left them weathering bitterly cold winds.

Obama's visit comes nearly one year exactly after he traveled to north Minneapolis following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in support of reforming gun laws.

BEHIND-THE-SCENES: Waiting for the president

Metro Transit did maintain a list of alerts online; however, Fox 9 News received a tip from at least one bus rider who said his bus was running 45 minutes late and he wished Metro Transit would have communicated with commuters beforehand.

$302 BILLION FOR ROADS AND RAILS

Obama's four-year plan would draw $300 billion from closing corporate tax loopholes, but the president did not offer specific examples. Instead, he and he is urging Congress to pass a transportation funding bill by the end of summer.

The current funding bill will expire in the fall, and the White House warns that more than 700,000 jobs would be at risk if Congress fails to act.

The $600 million in competitive grants mark the sixth round of funding for the TIGER program, which was first established via Obama's economic stimulus package in 2009.

Yet, although the grant program has provided more than $45 million to projects in Minnesota, it has been a target for Republicans who would rather trim the federal deficit and pare down the federal budget. The latest Minnesota poll published by the Star Tribune on Feb. 15 indicates only 43 percent of Minnesotans approve of Obama's performance.

FEDERAL GAS TAX INCREASE AHEAD?

Neither Republicans nor Democrats want to raise the 18.4-cent federal fuel tax, which hasn't gone up in 20 years; however, the Highway Trust Fund will go broke by the end of summer if nothing is done.

The last time the tax was increased, Bill Clinton was in office. President Ronald Reagan saw the federal gas tax raised twice during his time in office.

MINNESOTA DELEGATES ABSENT

Most of Minnesota's congressional delegation was absent from the crowd at Union Depot. Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum attended, but others had prior commitments that couldn't be broken.

- Sen. Amy Klobuchar is chairing a hearing on cell phone competition, spokeswoman Brigit Helgen said. "Otherwise she would be with the President as she was just last month in Michigan for the Farm Bill signing."

- Rep. Tim Walz is participating in a House committee hearing on rail safety.

- Sen. Al Franken is attending the funeral of a friend, according to an aide.

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