Biden names New Orleans mayor to head infrastructure council

Vice President Joe Biden has tapped the mayor of New Orleans to lead a task force that will oversee $200 billion in transportation funds designed to help pay for billions of dollars in capital…

Biden names New Orleans mayor to head infrastructure council

Vice President Joe Biden has tapped the mayor of New Orleans to lead a task force that will oversee $200 billion in transportation funds designed to help pay for billions of dollars in capital projects nationwide.

Biden named New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu president of the White House Infrastructure Council on Thursday afternoon. Landrieu is the first executive director of the new group.

“The infrastructure in America is in desperate need of investment, and this council will be one of the most important groups in President Obama’s second term,” Biden said in a statement. “These are tough times, and not one of our challenges is more important than the next. I’m confident that through hard work and ideas we can put Americans back to work and strengthen our economy.”

Biden on Monday announced the formation of the council after a yearlong interagency study he led that reached a consensus on priorities for fixing aging bridges, highway and transit projects.

“We decided to take the comprehensive approach and make a number of decisions from the beginning,” Biden said last week, summarizing the findings. “So we put together the list based on what we know of what we need, what we think we can do. Then we brought together all the agencies, including EPA and DOT [Department of Transportation], who are charged with carrying out those decisions.”

The administration is leading an effort to allow localities access to the transportation money, with Biden, Biden’s daughter Ashley, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood working on the initiative in White House conference calls.

John Podesta, Obama’s chief of staff, is leading the planning on Biden’s behalf, along with White House assistant and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Scott Strzelczyk, the president’s deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs. Podesta also has directed the Interagency Task Force on Jobs and Growth, a process Biden’s group will now report to.

The president’s second term includes a number of projects that will require hundreds of billions of dollars to be paid for. Projects included in the president’s five-year transportation funding blueprint seek to pay for $90 billion in infrastructure repairs each year for the next two decades, according to the congressional proposal.

Obama will release his budget later this month and plans to submit a comprehensive infrastructure plan to Congress early in 2013.

Landrieu, a former council member and Democrat who was elected mayor in 2009, has said his city will be more prepared to attract private investment as it develops a $7 billion airport terminal under construction and is moving forward with plans to revamp the airport.

When asked by The Washington Post in January which metropolitan area he would choose as his “preferred state,” Landrieu cited the economy and a plan he has proposed to accelerate the construction of pre-engineered facilities such as highways and bridges in his plan.

Landrieu pledged that the council will report its findings to the president by May so his recommendation will be included in the president’s budget.

When asked by The Post last year about the need for infrastructure programs, Stzelczyk said on the phone with reporters that Obama’s overall job creation effort would include projects that not only create jobs for infrastructure but also for schools, other infrastructure projects and government operations.

The president’s proposals would focus on “getting the roads, bridges, highways, airports back into the shape they need to be — because they’re obviously critical to the economy,” Stzelczyk said.

“These are going to be jobs creating, jobs sustaining jobs that are going to enhance this economic recovery,” he said.

Jason Stanford, spokeswoman for Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and brother of the mayor, said Thursday the senator’s office was not aware of any scheduling changes with Landrieu’s travel.

The two senators were in Washington for the launch of the mayor’s council, attending a meeting of U.S. mayors at the White House.

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