The Twin Cities’ growing transportation infrastructure grabbed the national spotlight when President Barack Obama dropped by the newly renovated Union Depot
in Saint Paul last Wednesday to tout a $300-billion-dollar transportation proposal.
Obama pointed to the $243-million-dollar Depot makeover in Lowertown as an example of the boost transportation development can give to local economies. “This project symbolizes what’s possible,” he said.
The project was supported, in part, through a federal grant program known as TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery
, which was created as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
“All told, more than 4,000 jobs were created for this project. And we’re seeing businesses crop up and new development crop up all along the line,” Obama said.
During his speech, Obama announced a $600-million expansion of the competitive TIGER grant program to spur economic development across the country. He plans to help finance the plan by simplifying the tax code and closing loopholes—a tactic Republicans generally oppose.
To hear the President speak, some 1,300-ticketed spectators filed into the multi-modal transit hub that will soon service the Metro Transit’s new Green Line
, bus lines, and Amtrak trains.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-St. Paul, who played an integral role in garnering $124 million in federal funding for the Depot project, was among them. She accompanied Obama on his flight from Washington aboard Air Force One.
“The President’s visit here today represents a great victory for all of the tireless champions of transit here in the east metro,” McCollum said in a statement. “Union Depot will serve as the crown jewel of transportation in the state of Minnesota and provide a critical upgrade to our region’s infrastructure.”
A shiny new light rail train that will soon be rolling down the Central Corridor was on full display in front of the Depot for Obama’s appearance. The President toured the maintenance facility for the trains during his visit.
“I just had a chance to take a look at some of those spiffy new trains,” Obama said. “They are nice. And they’re energy efficient. They’re going to be reliable. You can get from one downtown to the other in a little over 30 minutes.”
In an embarrassing turn, the new train that was on display careened off a snow bank and derailed on its return trip from the Depot shortly after Obama departed. It took workers several hours get the train back on track, according to the Star Tribune
Obama didn’t miss the opportunity to bond with Minnesotans over what is turning out to be the coldest winter in decades. He chided Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, a North Carolinian, who introduced the President at the event, for being soft in the cold.
“When we got off the plane, Secretary Foxx…turned to me and he said, ‘This is the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.’ Now we were only out there for like a minute,” Obama said. The President added that as a native of Chicago, he found the single-digit temperatures that day “balmy.” “February in Minnesota—can’t beat it. Cannot beat it,” he said.
He also commended Minnesota’s contributions to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. “It is not shocking that Minnesotans might be pretty good at the Winter Olympics,” he said. Minnesota sent 19 athletes to the games—the second most of any state.
Sources: President Barack Obama, Rep. Betty McCullum, D-St. Paul
Writer: Kyle Mianulli