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US president unveils £350bn six year transport bill proposal

US President Barack Obama has unveiled proposals for a six-year, $556bn (£350bn) transport plan that includes up to £20bn for a pioneering National Infrastructure Bank to invest in projects of regional or national significance to the economy.

Obama’s plans need approval from Congress and he has pledged to work with the body to ensure that the plan will not increase the country’s budget deficit.

The proposals were included in his budget on Monday. It will see £80bn allocated to the Department of Transportation next year, a small increase of £30M on the 2010/11 financial year.

The plan also provides £5bn in 2011/12 and £33bn over six years for high speed rail projects.

If approved, the new transportation bill would see a massive increase in infrastructure spending.

The last transportation bill authorised £185bn of spending and ran until September 2009. Since then transport planning has been in limbo with funds allocated via a series of short term extensions to the old legislation.

In the US, federal transport spending is formalised in a transportation bill, signed off by the President, Congress and the Senate. Without a bill it is illegal to spend federal funds.

Business and transport lobby groups have long campaigned for a bill sanctioning spending of between £290bn and £324bn (NCE 5 August 2008).

US transportation secretary Ray LaHood said the budget lays a new foundation for economic growth and competitiveness by rebuilding the nation’s transportation systems.

“President Obama’s budget is a targeted investment in America’s economic success,” said LaHood.

“If we’re going to win the future, we have to out-compete the rest of the world by moving people, goods, and information more quickly and reliably than ever before. 

“President Obama’s investments in rebuilding our crumbling roadways and runways, and modernizing our railways and bus systems will help us do just that.”

The six-year proposal would provide will also provide £210bn to rebuild roads and bridges and £74bn in funding for affordable, sustainable, and efficient transit options.

The National Infrastructure Bank (I-Bank) is intended to leverage private capital to build complex large-scale projects that hold significant economic benefits to a region or the nation as a whole.

The I-Bank will provide loans and grants to support individual projects and broader activities. For example, the I-Bank could support improvements in road and rail access to a West Coast port that benefits farmers in the Midwest.

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