Two St. Thomas students took interest when President Barack Obama visited St. Paul Wednesday to reveal his plan to invest in and update the nation’s transportation infrastructure.
“I’m hoping to work for Metro Transit, so I’m really interested in this kind of stuff,” sophomore Ryan Burke said. “I think transit does a lot of really positive things for everyone in a community but specifically for students.”
Burke and senior Emily Kindelspire were among the hundreds who gathered in St. Paul’s Union Depot to hear Obama unveil his plan to ask Congress for $302 billion to revitalize the aging transportation systems throughout the U.S.
“At a time when companies are saying they intend to hire more people this year, we need to make that decision easier for them,” Obama said. “We can create jobs at the same time, rebuilding our transportation systems, our power grids, our communications networks—all the things that commerce relies on and that helps get workers to those jobs.”
Obama cited an “important deadline” as the reason for his push for federal funding. Funding for surface transportation programs expires in September, and unless Congress renews them, the White House says 700,000 jobs could be at risk.
Obama outlined a plan with four parts: creating good jobs that pay well, offering skill training needed to get jobs, guaranteeing every child access to a good education and paying liveable, saveable wages with access to health care.
“I thought that he made a lot of really good points,” Kindelspire said. “I was really pleased that he mentioned not just creating jobs … but paying people something they can live off of, not just minimum wage.”
Obama stopped to tour the Metro Transit Light Rail Operations and Maintenance Facility in St. Paul before speaking at the Union Depot and previewed new Green Rail trains, a project partially funded by his stimulus plan. The Union Depot was the beneficiary of nearly $125 million in federal funds for renovations four years ago.
“Not only have you made a more efficient transportation system, cutting down commutes, saving on gas, reducing carbon pollution, but this depot has helped to boost economic development in Lowertown St. Paul,” Obama said.
Burke said working with a tight budget makes public transportation appealing to many students, and that new light rail lines will hopefully make taking public transportation easier.
“A lot of us (students) take transit everywhere, and it’s kind of difficult—especially from St. Thomas—to find accessible transit that’s not going to take two hours to get anywhere, so this light rail is going to be a big game changer,” Burke said.
Obama will present his four-year transportation bill to Congress next week.
“The bottom line is there’s work to be done, workers ready to do it,” Obama said. “Rebuilding our infrastructure is vital to business. It creates good-paying jobs that—by the way—cannot be outsourced. This is one of Congress’s major responsibilities—helping states and cities fund new infrastructure projects.”
Gabrielle Martinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Air Force One video courtesy of John Remes