Transportation and Infrastructure Mentions in the State of the Union Address, 2000-2021

As we all await President Biden’s State of the Union address tonight, it is worth looking back at the times that recent Presidents have used the SOTU to speak to transportation and infrastructure issues (or declined to do so). Using the database of Presidential speeches at the American Presidency Project (bookmark it), we used the magic of [Ctrl]-F to search through every State of the Union address in this century for such mentions.

Rules: colloquial uses of key words, like “down the road” or “bridge to the 21st Century,” are not included. And even though a new President’s first post-Inaugural address to Congress is, technically, not a State of the Union address, the APP list treats them a such and so do we.

(Ed. Note: Our favorite has to be Bill Clinton’s Freudian slip in the 2000 SOTU where he kept trying to promote plans to make communities more “livable” but kept saying “liberal” instead. Watch it here starting at the 1:11:00 mark.)

Clinton 2000 – “We ended welfare as we knew it, requiring work while protecting health care and nutrition for children and investing more in child care, transportation, and housing to help their parents go to work.”

“Tonight I ask you to support new funding for the following things, to make American communities more liberal—livable. [Laughter] I’ve done pretty well with this speech, but I can’t say that.

“One, I want you to help us to do three things. We need more funding for advanced transit systems. We need more funding for saving open spaces in places of heavy development. And we need more funding—this ought to have bipartisan appeal—we need more funding for helping major cities around the Great Lakes protect their waterways and enhance their quality of life. We need these things, and I want you to help us.”

Bush 2001 – [No mention of “transportation,” “infrastructure,” or other search terms.]

Bush 2002 – “One purpose of the USA Freedom Corps will be homeland security. America needs retired doctors and nurses who can be mobilized in major emergencies, volunteers to help police and fire departments, transportation and utility workers well-trained in spotting danger.”…

…” Good jobs also depend on reliable and affordable energy. This Congress must act to encourage conservation, promote technology, build infrastructure, and it must act to increase energy production at home so America is less dependent on foreign oil.”

Bush 2003 – [No mention of “transportation,” “infrastructure,” or other search terms.]

Bush 2004 – [No mention of “transportation,” “infrastructure,” or other search terms.]

Bush 2005 – [No mention of “transportation,” “infrastructure,” or other search terms.]

Bush 2006 – “So far the Federal Government has committed $85 billion to the people of the gulf coast and New Orleans. We’re removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees.”

Bush 2007 – “To secure our border, we’re doubling the size of the Border Patrol and funding new infrastructure and technology.”

Bush 2008 – “In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies, and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for Al Qaida is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope.”

Obama 2009 – “History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this Nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of Civil War, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the Moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world. In each case, Government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.”

Obama 2010 – “Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our Nation has always been built to compete. There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products. Tomorrow I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help move our Nation’s goods, services, and information.”

Obama 2011 – “The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information, from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet.

“Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our Nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a D.

“We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.

“So over the last 2 years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And tonight I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts.

“We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

“Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying, without the pat-down. [Laughter] As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway…All these investments–in innovation, education, and infrastructure–will make America a better place to do business and create jobs. But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.”

Obama 2012 – “Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure. So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges, a power grid that wastes too much energy, an incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small-business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.

“During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. After World War II, we connected our States with a system of highways. Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today.

“In the next few weeks, I will sign an Executive order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects. But you need to fund these projects. Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.”

Obama 2013 – “America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire, a country with deteriorating roads and bridges or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America—a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina—said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And that’s the attitude of a lot of companies all around the world. And I know you want these job-creating projects in your district. I’ve seen all those ribbon-cuttings. [Laughter]

“So tonight I propose a Fix-It-First program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a partnership to rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods, modern pipelines to withstand a storm, modern schools worthy of our children. Let’s prove there’s no better place to do business than here in the United States of America, and let’s start right away. We can get this done…These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, housing, all these things will help entrepreneurs and small-business owners expand and create new jobs.”

Obama 2014 – “Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes, because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. That can happen. But I’ll act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.”

Obama 2015 – “We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the Internet, tools they needed to go as far as their efforts and their dreams will take them.”…

“Twenty-first century businesses need 21st-century infrastructure: modern ports and stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year and make this country stronger for decades to come. Let’s do it. Let’s get it done.”…

“Now, the truth is, when it comes to issues like infrastructure and basic research, I know there’s bipartisan support in this Chamber. Members of both parties have told me so. Where we too often run onto the rocks is how to pay for these investments. As Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes as long as everybody else does too. But for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the Tax Code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight. They’ve riddled it with giveaways that the super-rich don’t need, while denying a break to middle class families who do.

“This year, we have an opportunity to change that. Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad and reward those that invest here in America. Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and to make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home. Let’s simplify the system and let a small-business owner file based on her actual bank statement, instead of the number of accountants she can afford. And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top 1 percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college. We need a Tax Code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.”

Obama 2016 – “…I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st-century transportation system.”

Trump 2017 – “…we’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.”…

“Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and railways gleaming across our very, very beautiful land. “…

“Another Republican President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, initiated the last truly great national infrastructure program—the building of the Interstate Highway System. The time has come for a new program of national rebuilding. America has spent approximately $6 trillion in the Middle East; all the while, our infrastructure at home is crumbling. With this $6 trillion, we could have rebuilt our country twice, and maybe even three times if we had people who had the ability to negotiate. [Laughter]

“To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States—financed through both public and private capital—creating millions of new jobs. This effort will be guided by two core principles: buy American and hire American.”…

“My administration wants to work with members of both parties to make childcare accessible and affordable; to help ensure new parents that they have paid family leave; to invest in women’s health; and to promote clean air and clean water; and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure.”

Trump 2018 – “As we rebuild our industries, it is also time to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just 1 year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road? I am asking both parties to come together to give us safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve.

“Tonight I’m calling on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs. Every Federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with State and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit. And we can do it.

“Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process, getting it down to no more than 2 years and perhaps even 1. Together, we can reclaim our great building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our land. And we will do it with American heart and American hands and American grit.”

Trump 2019 – “Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure. I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill, and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future. This is not an option, this is a necessity.”

Trump 2020 – “We must also rebuild America’s infrastructure. I ask you to pass Senator John Barrasso’s highway bill to invest in new roads, bridges, and tunnels all across our land. I’m also committed to ensuring that every citizen can have access to high-speed internet, including and especially in rural America.”

Biden 2021 – “Throughout our history, if you think about it, public investment in infrastructure has literally transformed America: our attitudes, as well as our opportunities. The transcontinental railroad, the interstate highways united two oceans and brought a totally new age of progress to the United States of America. Universal public schools and college aid opened wide the doors of opportunity. Scientific breakthroughs took us to the Moon—now we’re on Mars—discovering vaccines, gave us the internet, and so much more.

“These are the investments we made together as one country, and investments that only the Government was in a position to make. Time and again, they propel us into the future. That’s why I proposed the American Jobs Plan, a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself. This is the largest jobs plan since World War II. It creates jobs to upgrade our transportation infrastructure; jobs modernizing our roads, bridges, highways; jobs building ports and airports, rail corridors, transit lines.“…

“Nearly 90 percent of the infrastructure jobs created in the American Jobs Plan do not require a college degree; 75 percent don’t require an associate’s degree. The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to build America. That’s what it is.”…

“Investments in jobs and infrastructure, like the ones we’re talking about, have often had bipartisan support in the past. Vice President Harris and I met regularly in the Oval Office with Democrats and Republicans to discuss the Jobs Plan. And I applaud a group of Republican Senators who just put forward their own proposal.”

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