Politics & Government

VP Joe Biden and DOT chief Anthony Foxx push transportation proposal

Vice President Joe Biden, left, traveled to Charlotte with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Thursday.
Vice President Joe Biden, left, traveled to Charlotte with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Thursday. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Vice President Joe Biden joined U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx near Charlotte’s Amtrak depot Thursday to push a long-term plan to finance transportation projects.

It was part of their two-day swing through the Carolinas touting the Obama administration’s $478billion, six-year transportation plan for roads, rails, bridges and transit.

After posing for pictures alongside nearby train tracks, Biden and Foxx spoke to about 100 transportation officials and other invited guests at Extravaganza Depot, an event space.

Both talked about the challenges posed by a growing population and an aging transportation infrastructure.

“You have a magnificent city … and one of the two most beautiful states in the country,” Biden said. “People are figuring it out and that’s why they’re coming here. But we’ve got to have the infrastructure to accommodate them.”

The Grow America Act would fund $317billion in highway projects and $115billion in transit systems.

Foxx and Biden, both Democrats, each pointed to the problems of outdated bridges and roads and the need for new ways to move people around. Underscoring the point was Amtrak President Joseph Boardman, who said, “We don’t have the reliability we had 50 years ago.”

Biden said the transportation plan would have other benefits.

“Ultimately folks, it’s all about jobs,” he said. “It’s all about good, decent jobs. … And the middle class has been clobbered.”

In a statement, the national Republican Party criticized the vice president’s comments, saying the administration, “has left the middle class struggling for the past six years.”

The Obama administration proposes paying for the plan in part by taxing the foreign earnings of U.S. companies. That idea is not universally popular in the Republican-controlled Congress.

“There is a bipartisan consensus that we have got to come up with additional, reliable sources of funding for the Highway Trust Fund,” said James Burnley, who was Transportation Secretary under Republican President Ronald Reagan. “Right now there’s no consensus in either party that I’m aware of for any particular remedy.”

Burnley, a High Point native, said there are at least three competing proposals to tax foreign earnings, and some lawmakers want to raise the gasoline tax; others are vehemently opposed.

Almost since he arrived at the DOT in 2013, Foxx has campaigned to keep the Highway Trust Fund, the major source of transportation funding, from going broke. In August, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the fund faces a $115billion deficit by 2024.

Last year, Congress passed a stopgap measure that keeps the fund going through May.

“There is a broad bipartisan consensus on what must be done, but if we don’t get a similar consensus on how to close the funding gap, we’ll probably get another short-term fix,” said Burnley.

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Foxx in Charlotte

Anthony Foxx, who was Charlotte’s mayor until he became U.S. transportation secretary in 2013, spoke at the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority on Thursday before appearing with the vice president.

Foxx noted that fast-growing areas such as Charlotte put great pressure on aging infrastructure. With more than 757,000 residents, Charlotte’s population has increased by about 40 percent since 2000.

Charlotte’s current transportation plan calls for 25 miles of commuter rail, 21 miles of light rail, 16 miles of streetcar and 14 miles of bus rapid transit by 2030.

“The fortunate thing about this community is it has a plan, but a plan is only as good as your ability to execute it,” Foxx said.

He encouraged local leaders to communicate the need for federal funding on individual projects, saying spending on transportation will create a better economy. Katie Peralta