President Barack Obama appeared at the foot of the Tappan Zee Bridge Wednesday to call on Congress to pass a $302 billion transportation bill that he said would support hundreds of thousands of jobs while repairing the nation's roads and bridges.
Obama, who spoke at the Washington Irving Boat Club in Tarrytown in Westchester County, also unveiled plans to expedite federal permits for major projects.
Obama touted the $3.9 billion project to replace the 58-year-old Tappan Zee between Rockland and West-chester counties as a model for cutting through red tape.
Obama said federal agencies fast-tracked the bridge's permitting process in 1½ years -- a process he said "normally takes 3-5 years."
Obama called for additional infrastructure projects, saying that, "building a world class transportation system is one of the reasons America became an economic superpower in the first place."
Obama's New York visit, which was to include two Democratic fundraisers Wednesday night and a speech Thursday at the National September 11 Memorial Museum dedication in lower Manhattan, coincides with the two-day State GOP convention in Rye Brook.
Republicans are expected to name Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino Thursday as their choice to run against Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in November.
Cuomo introduced Obama, who said Cuomo's work in getting funding for the Tappan Zee project showed a "can-do spirit."
Astorino stood watching near reporters. He told Newsday he decided to attend Obama's appearance because "this is a historic event for Westchester County. The president of the United States is visiting us, he should get all the due respect he deserves and the office of the presidency deserves. He's my president too."
State GOP chairman Ed Cox in a statement addressed the timing of Obama's Westchester visit and said Astorino should also be thanked for his support of the Tappan Zee Bridge project. "Mr. President we're happy that you saw fit to visit Westchester on the opening day of our convention," Cox said.
Obama said his appearance was meant to highlight the urgency of infrastructure projects.
He noted that Vice President Joe Biden was in Cleveland Wednesday highlighting a project that got fast tracked there.Cuomo announced in October that the federal government had signed off on the state's request for a loan to finance the Tappan Zee project, authorizing borrowing of $1.6 billion. The New York Thruway Authority will fund the remaining cost of the $3.9 billion bridge.
In his speech, Obama pressed House Republicans to support his four-year transportation package. He said that while "a bipartisan group of members in the Senate are working toward a compromise," House Republicans have proposed cuts.
A plan by House Republican leaders calls for a $723 million cut to the Department of Transportation and a $500 million reduction to the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, a federal transportation grant program.