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January 29, 2014 8:30 AM, EST
Obama Seeks Highway Bill by Summer
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

President Obama told lawmakers he wants them to pass surface and waterway transportation funding bills by the summer and to pay for them by reforming the corporate tax code.

In his State of the Union address Jan. 28, Obama criticized the corporate tax code as being “riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes” that reward moving jobs out of the country. He wants Congress to close those loopholes.

“We can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes – because in today's global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure,” he said, adding that lawmakers could protect 3 million jobs if they pass surface transportation and waterways bills by the summer.

Congress passed the MAP-21 highway law in 2012, but it will expire Sept. 30. Lawmakers have started considering a new bill to replace it, in addition to a water infrastructure bill to fund ports, canals and similar assets.

Obama said he would work to streamline the permitting process for infrastructure.

American Trucking Associations welcomed Obama’s call for infrastructure development, but found it lacking.

“While we appreciate President Obama making reference to the need for infrastructure investment, we remain disappointed in the continued lack of specificity when he discusses funding,” ATA President Bill Graves said in a statement.

“While it is critically important to the nation that Congress and the administration come together on a multiyear highway bill this year, we believe that until the administration puts forward a serious, user-based funding proposal we will risk going over the Highway Trust Fund 'fiscal cliff' in the near term and be woefully underfunded to meet the longer term needs of the nation,” he said.

ATA Chairman Philip Byrd Sr. attended the State of the Union and spoke about his experience in a video on the group's website.

“I was a little disappointed that we didn’t hear more substantive information relative to how we do infrastructure improvements, how we stabilize the Highway Trust Fund, things of this nature that are critical to our industry,” Byrd said. “It was just very shallow.”

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association also welcomed the infrastructure discussion.

“It is commendable that President Obama once again used his State of the Union address to talk about the need to repair the nation’s transportation infrastructure,” CEO Pete Ruane said in a statement. “Now we would like to see specific plans about how Congress and president plan to tackle the underlying problem: the need for new, long-term revenues.”

The president promoted expanded use of natural gas, which he called “the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”

He said he’d “cut red tape” to get more natural gas fueling stations built, which he said would help move trucks and cars to the fuel.

Obama also said his administration would set new fuel-efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks “in the coming months … so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.”

The standards would start in 2019 and build on current efficiency and greenhouse gas emission levels that get stricter from this year to 2017. An administration official said last year that the new standards may regulate trailers in addition to trucks.

The full transcript of Obama’s speech is available on the White House website.