President Obama has visited the area three times within the past couple of years and touted the business practices of an area restaurateur, Punch Pizza, during his most recent State of the Union address. Vice President Biden was in town a couple of weeks ago and on Wednesday, February 26, the president made a stop at the Union Depot in St. Paul to announce his competition encouraging Congress pass a bill to create jobs and restore infrastructure as part of the president’s Year of Action. The depot was chosen as an example of a previously collapsing entity that is seeing a revival due to a recent restoration.
“Because of the work done on this building right here, all toll, more than 4,000 jobs were created because of this project,” said Obama. “All in all, everybody’s winning.”
St. Paul’s Union Depot, which had become seriously dilapidated, received a grand makeover to the tune of a $243 million restoration that was completed in December 2012. The Union Depot restoration received $124.3 million in federal funds.
The president said he will ask Congress for $300 billion to update the nation’s roads and railways. The Highway Trust Fund finances federal highway programs but is set to run dry as early as August. According to estimates, the fund needs $100 billion over the next six years just to maintain current spending levels.
There is probably no great irony that President Obama chose to come to the Twin Cities to discuss increased funding to infrastructure. Still fresh in the minds of most Minnesotans is the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge that killed 13 and seriously wounded scores of others. Just 13 months later, the newly constructed bridge opened for traffic and was touted as a design innovation. The cost to construct the replacement bridge was $234 million. According to the president, there are other bridges in the nation that are dilapidated and in danger of collapse.
“We’ve got more than 100 bridges throughout our nation that are old enough to qualify for Medicare,” said the president to applause and laughter. “This is one of Congress’ vital jobs to create jobs that build our infrastructure.”
Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-4) said the Union Depot is a prime example of how an entity can be transformed with proper investment.
“After train service ceased in the early 1970s, the state of the building deteriorated, and when I toured the Depot shortly after being elected to Congress in 2000, it was in disrepair. It had been overrun by pigeons, windows were broken and shuttered, and the space was cold and largely abandoned, except for a few empty mail carts,” said McCollum just prior to the president’s arrival. “When I think back to that day and that tour, I can hardly believe how we were able to transform Union Depot into what it is today – a bright, modern multi-modal transit hub that is serving passengers every day on hundreds of regional and intercity buses, and will soon welcome rail service on Amtrak as well as light rail.”
According to McCollum, the Depot is now a key hub for more than 300 buses with Amtrak and light rail transit service to Minneapolis set to begin in the coming months.
President Obama, who has been criticized in the past for not focusing enough on the poor, touted the Union Depot project for running train lines into lower economic areas, providing greater access for residents to job areas.
“We’ve got to build an economy that works for all people, no matter who you are, where you come from or what you look like,” said Obama.