Pelosi and Lieu stump for federal highway funds at the California Incline reconstruction project
By Gary Walker
To sell the idea of investing more federal tax dollars into bolstering the nation’s aging transportation infrastructure, U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Ted Lieu (D- Torrance) joined local officials on Friday for a press conference at the California Incline reconstruction project.
The California Incline, which connects Pacific Coast Highway with California Avenue in Santa Monica, is currently being demolished and will be replaced with a wider roadway that’s better equipped to handle earthquakes.
About 90% of the $18-million price tag for reconstructing the 1930 hillside roadway came through the federal Highway Bridge Program.
Against this backdrop, Pelosi and Lieu talked about infrastructure spending as an engine for job creation and improved public safety.
Authorization of the federal Highway Trust Fund, a fuel tax-funded account that pays for interstate highway maintenance and improvements as well as mass transportation initiatives, is set to expire at the end of the month, said Lieu. Congress passed a temporary extension on July 16.
“We know that our roads, highways and bridges form the spine of the American economy, and it is time to renew, rebuild and reinvest in America. And by doing so we’re going to create millions of good, well-paying, middle-class jobs that cannot be outsourced,” said Lieu, whose district includes Santa Monica.
Pelosi said another piece of legislation that Democrats have introduced is the Grow America Act, which would increase federal investment in transportation by as much as 45%. Like reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund, however, lawmakers remain split along party lines.
“[Infrastructure] has never been particularly partisan in the past. There isn’t a member of Congress who doesn’t know what this can do for his or her district. Now is the time to make the big, bold investments in infrastructure that America needs to compete and succeed in the 21st century,” said Pelosi. “As disappointed as I am about these kick the can down the road measures, I’m optimistic that with enough public weigh-in and enough public awareness that we will be able to get a bill that will remove all doubt that the federal government will be there.”
Rebuilding the California Incline illustrates the importance of federal funding, Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown said.
“This is where the money actually gets used. This kind of infrastructure improvement is why federal highway funding is so important to us. In constructing this, we had to be very careful because of the environmentally sensitive bluffs that required steel and concrete reinforcement to meet state standards. This is something that would have been impossible for the city of Santa Monica to do alone without federal support,” McKeown noted.
“Our transportation forefathers are turning over in their graves. We must have a long-term transportation reauthorization bill, and we have to have it now,” said L.A. Metro CEO Phillip Washington, adding that long-range local and regional transit planning is often reliant on federal money.
Asked why she felt hopeful about transportation legislation being passed, Pelosi responded that she has had conversations with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner about the importance of reauthorizing the highway trust fund and passing the Grow America Act.
“I’m optimistic that the speaker and I can come to terms on legislation, but I just don’t know what the United States Senate will do. It’s a question of where do we get the resources, what are the priorities, how it relates to everyone’s community and understanding how it has to be paid for,” she said.
Marcus Savage, an outreach and carpenter instructor with the Southwest Carpenters Training Fund (a subset of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Union), came to the press conference to hear what Lieu and Pelosi would say about how labor could benefit from more infrastructure projects.
“We support all the things that [Minority] Leader Pelosi is trying to do to get more money for the highway fund project. We’d also like to see more African-Americans on some of these job sites, including on [the Incline] project,” said Savage, who later spoke with Pelosi.
Construction work on the California Incline is expected to wrap up next spring.