Obama Falls Prey to Ribbon-Cutting Syndrome

obama_construction_workers_300x194.jpgObama greets construction workers at a DC photo op. Photo: AFP via Infrastructurist.

At a press event in DC yesterday, President Obama touted the two thousandth transportation project to receive federal stimulus funds. I’m speculating a bit here, but the White House probably had some discretion when choosing which item to highlight for this milestone. So did they pick a refurbished transit station? A new bike route? Perhaps a bridge repair project to signal that we’re not going to repeat the mistakes that led to the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis?

None of the above. The same president who proclaimed the days of building sprawl to be over boasted about the widening of a highway interchange near Portage, Michigan from four lanes to six. Obama, apparently, isn’t immune to ribbon-cutting syndrome: Like many other elected officials, he can’t resist associating himself with a hefty road expansion project.

In this case, the president didn’t have the interchange itself as a backdrop, but he did surround himself with construction workers for the cameras. I’m still looking forward to the day when bus drivers get to serve as stage props too.

  • Very well said. It really would have been nice to highlight something a bit more inspiring. Based on a couple things I’ve read, it sounds like the highway in question isn’t particularly even in need of widening.

    That said, the fact that it was big and the fact that it was in the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country probably sealed the deal.

  • Portland, Oregon funded 10 years worth of bicycle infrastructure–which now net 8% of transportation trips in that city–with approximately $100 million dollars. What’s the cost of this single interchange widening?

  • I think there are many, many of these “shovel-ready” projects that got funding that we shouldn’t be championing. However, we need to understand that wholesale changes in infrastructure development are only going to come as a result of concerted effort over a period of many years. No need to get upset over the item discussed here.

  • FAIL

  • Anon

    I think he’s still campaigning. It seems to be all he knows.

  • JSD

    Sheesh. Give the guy a break. It would be political suicide to full on embrace a national Livable Streets initiative at the expense of traditional highway and bridge expansion and spending.

    The sorts of policy initiatives that we root for here have gotten a huge boost in the space of this guy’s first 80 days. In this sort of situation, words do matter. And so does a boatload of new money for transit spending and high speed rail. We’ve gotten both. The national conversation has to shift before we will really see dedication out of the administration. That process has started. But the administration can’t leave the projects that are ready for construction (yes, even highway expansion) for urban transit spending wholesale.

    There has to be at least a semblance of balance. Yes, transit spending got a bit of the raw end of the deal. But that raw end is more than we’ve gotten out of any administration in recent memory. Combined. I’d hate to say we should be happy with what we got…

    But we should be happy with what we got. Let’s use it as a base for a measured future shift. Not a wholesale radical change in modern transportation spending. We’ll incur the wrath of everyone not knowledgeable of what Livable Streets is all about. Compromise is a wondrous thing. And I think we’ll win in the end.

  • peejay


    Portland may have spent $100 million on bike infrastructure, but now it’s about to give up all it has gained by building a $4.2 billion bridge replacement that will double the number of auto lanes and create more induced demand for cheap housing in the rural outskirts of Vancouver, WA. That’s what cracks me up about people who complain about the money that’s spent on a little paint on the side of a road. $4.2 billion? No problem! We can’t possibly allow congestion, can we?



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