Chicago — President-elect Barack Obama said Saturday that he wants to revive the economy and create jobs by upgrading roads, schools and energy efficiency in a public-works program whose scale has been unseen since construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
He offered no price estimate for the grand plan, how the money might be divided or the effect on the country’s financial health at a time of burgeoning deficits.
The ideas were outlined in the weekly radio address the day after the government reported that employers cut 533,000 jobs in November, the most in 34 years. They are part of a vision for a massive economy recovery plan Obama wants Congress to pass and have waiting on his desk when he takes office Jan. 20.
The president-elect’s address never once used the word “spend,” relying instead on “invest” or “investments,” and pledging wise stewardship of taxpayer money in upgrading roads and schools, and making public buildings more energy-efficient.
“We won’t just throw money at the problem,” Obama said. “We’ll measure progress by the reforms we make and the results we achieve — by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world.”
Obama said his plan would employ millions of people by “making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.” He said state officials would lose federal dollars if they did not quickly use the money to repair highways and bridges.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, a 1991 final estimate of the cost of the interstate system put it at $128.9 billion, with a federal share of $114.3 billion. The estimate covered only the mileage (42,795 miles) built under the interstate construction program. Construction of the system began in 1956 under President Dwight Eisenhower.
More than 5,000 highway projects are ready to go today, state transportation officials say, if Congress will pony up $64.3 billion as part of an economic aid plan. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which compiled the list, said the projects would provide jobs and help reduce a backlog of crumbling roads and bridges.
In the address, Obama also said he wants to install energy-saving light bulbs and replace old heating systems in federal buildings to cut costs and create jobs.
School buildings would get an upgrade, too. “Because to help our children compete in a 21st century economy, we need to send them to 21st century schools,” Obama said.