September 9, 2014 / 2:46 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. takes halting steps to plug infrastructure funding gap

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Tuesday announced a series of measures to help shore up crumbling U.S. infrastructure, including half a billion dollars in loans for the electric grid.

A highway is seen in Palm Springs, California December 20, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The moves are part of the administration’s efforts to address what it says is a $1 trillion funding gap for transportation, water and electricity needs over the next six years.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said investing in infrastructure has historically been one of the best ways to create jobs and boost economic growth, but spending has fallen over the past decade, as two-thirds of roads are now in disrepair, and one out of nine U.S. bridges have structural deficiencies.

“Looking ahead, if we want to continue to lead the world, we are going to need modern highways and railroads, first-rate tunnels and bridges, and efficient power networks and water systems,” Lew said at an infrastructure summit Treasury hosted with the Department of Transportation.

New efforts include $518 million in loans for 22 electric projects from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will build 5,600 miles of electrical lines in rural areas and improve the electric grid. Lew said the grid is unable to withstand many outages tied to weather, costing the U.S. economy up to $33 billion each year.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx also highlighted a $950 million loan his department approved last week for the I-4 Ultimate project, a 21-mile (34 km) road that would run through Orlando, Florida, and use a public-private partnership for expansion and maintenance.

Republicans and Democrats are at odds over how to provide a more permanent fix to the infrastructure funding problem, and the White House is highlighting the need for the private sector to step in.

Lew said Treasury would commission a report on transport and water projects that could have the biggest economic impact around the country, but may not be moving ahead because of funding or political obstacles.

The Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation also announced on Tuesday that they would invest $1 million to support innovative public-private partnerships for infrastructure.

Separately, the Treasury Department said 30 cities planned to invest $233 billion in municipal water systems over the next 10 years. Details about the municipal plans were not immediately available.

Reporting and writing by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Tom Brown

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