Biden in NC: America must rebuild its infrastructure
Posted February 19, 2015
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a visit to Charlotte, where local leaders say prosperity is linked to infrastructure investments, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday reiterated the administration's call to invest billions in highways, bridges and passenger rail service to promote long-term economic growth.
"How can we afford not to modernize our infrastructure," Biden said, on the second day of his swing through the Carolinas, to about 100 people in a building close to the city's aging Amtrak station.
Biden appeared with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the city's former mayor, who's making a five-state tour to promote a plan to spend almost $500 billion over the next six years to fix the nation's infrastructure.
Biden also appeared with Foxx in South Carolina on Wednesday, where the vice president touched on some of the same themes: the United States lags behind the rests of the world in transportation infrastructure.
"The United States shouldn't be 28th in the world in anything," he said.
Foxx said Charlotte's explosive growth can be attributed to the substantial investment in infrastructure over the last three decades.
The signs of that growth are all around: Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is the sixth busiest in the nation. An intermodal freight distribution network is being built near the airport which will link planes, rail and East Coast ports.
The city is a major financial center, home to Bank of America Corp., one of the nation's largest banks by assets. Charlotte's skyline is the most dramatic cityscape in the Southeast outside of Atlanta. The city's two major league sports teams – NFL's Carolina Panthers and NBA's Charlotte Hornets – and its minor league baseball team all play in downtown venues. And new condominiums and apartment buildings ring the downtown area called Uptown.
While Biden praised the city's growth, he noted the run-down condition of the city's 64-year-old Amtrak station. "You are one of the great cities in America. How can this be?"
Charlotte leaders are planning a new multi-modal transportation center that would replace the Amtrak station and serve intercity passenger rail, regional and local buses and a proposed street car. It's the kind of project the infrastructure proposal could help build in other cities.
Biden and Foxx also said high-speed rail is critical to improving transportation problems facing America as the nation's population continues to increase.
"You live in a magnificent city," Biden said. "There's no reason why you shouldn't be able to get on a train here in Charlotte and be in Atlanta in less than an hour and a half."
"The issue is more than building more highway lanes ... It's also about trying to build multimodal systems that connect rail and transit and highways," he said.
Foxx later visited Durham to highlight the 17-mile light-rail line planned to run between Durham and Chapel Hill.
"If we invest in a 21st century transportation system, we can grow jobs and the economy," he said.
Still, he expressed worry about the line's future, along with the future of highways and roads across the country, because a major federal funding source for transportation will expire in May.
"Even if you get the alignment to get the funding source at the local level, you're still going to need federal money to come in and get the rest of the system built," he said. "If the federal government isn't prepared to stand there as a partner, it's going to be a problem. So, this area has a big stake in this."