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Published: Friday, 6/18/2010

Obama stops in Columbus to tout road project funded by stimulus

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Saying Ohioans are building their future as they rebuild their roads, President Barack Obama briefly set foot on Buckeye soil Friday to mark the start of the 10,000th road project funded with federal stimulus dollars.

Bulldozers, hard hats, and an orange construction sign proclaiming "Putting Americans Back to Work" serving as the backdrop, the President touted the $787 billion package passed almost entirely with Democratic votes last year and which Republicans have made the poster child for deficit spending.

"Repairing our existing infrastructure is not enough," he told a small crowd consisting mostly of construction workers and media. "We can't build an economy that sustains our kids and grandkids just by relying on the infrastructure that we inherited from our parents and grandparents."

He was on the ground about 15 minutes just outside downtown Columbus, arguing that the nation's economy is on the rebound.

"I'm under no illusion that we're where we need to be yet," he said. "I know a lot of families have yet to feel the effects of the recovery in their own lives. There are still too many people here in Ohio and across the country who can't find work. Many more can't make ends meet. To these folks, the only jobs that we create that matter are the ones that provide for their families."

Mr. Obama didn't mention Ohio's application for federal help in response to last week's tornado disaster in Wood, Fulton, and Ottawa counties. But afterwards Gov. Ted Strickland, who met Air Force One at Port Columbus International Airport, said he had the chance to discuss it with him.

The stop outside a massive expansion of Nationwide Children's Hospital kicked off a tour by the President and his administration to promote summer construction season projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The tour will take Vice President Joe Biden to Midland, Mich. for Monday's ground-breaking of a new advanced battery manufacturing facility. Mr. Obama drew chuckles from the crowd when he briefly paraphrased his vice president.

"This is a big deal," he said, leaving out the expletive that Mr. Biden once uttered, unaware he was still wired for sound.

Mr. Obama's brief appearance in Ohio occurred just hours after the state announced that May's unemployment rate had dropped to 10.7 percent from April's 10.9 percent in April. Ohio's jobless rate remains a full percentage point higher than the national average.

To date, the state has received $1.5 billion in transportation stimulus dollars. The Department of Transportation said as of last month some 7,000 contracted construction workers were receiving paychecks worth $8.5 billion thanks to the stimulus investment.

The $15 million, milestone project that Mr. Obama touted Friday just east of the city's downtown is expected to create 325 construction jobs. The road widening and other sidewalk, turning lane, and signaling improvements are related to the hospital's expansion that will include a new $740 million pediatric care and research facility to open in 2012.

The visit marked Mr. Obama's eighth since taking office to a state considered crucial to his hopes of holding onto the White House in 2012. It was his second stop in Columbus to tout the 2009 stimulus package.

Friday's appearance also came as Mr. Obama is talking about a much smaller, second stimulus package to help cash-strapped states, schools, and local governments avoid more layoffs and cuts in Medicaid services.



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