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President Obama left behind the debate in Washington yesterday to campaign for his jobs bill, which includes money to upgrade infrastructure. He visited the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati, which is considered obsolete. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: Gerardo Claudio lives in Augusta, Georgia, and works all over the country. He spends about three weeks out of every month on the road, which gives him a good look at the nation's infrastructure.
GERARDO CLAUDIO: The roads are in real, real awful condition, should I say.
SHAPIRO: What's the consequences of that in terms of business, industry, the kind of work that you do?
CLAUDIO: Example the van that I drive, I mean right now going through all these potholes and this and that knowing, you know, it takes away from the vehicle value. It takes away in the, you know, wear and tear.
SHAPIRO: The infrastructure deterioration that he experiences across the country is Fred Craig's specialty right here in Cincinnati. I stopped Craig on the street at random and asked him to tell me what he does for a living.
FRED CRAIG: I'm an engineer, and I'm actually working on the Brent Spence Bridge project.
SHAPIRO: He told me the bridge was designed for 80,000 vehicles a day. And today it carries double that amount. The shoulders have been turned into traffic lanes, so when there's an accident the cars back up for miles. Even so, roughly four percent of the country's gross domestic product crosses this bridge.
CRAIG: Locally it's very important because it connects Northern Kentucky and Southwestern Ohio. But nationally it connects the Great Lakes to the Gulf.
SHAPIRO: President Obama argues that if the country's does not invest in restoring this kind of infrastructure now, we'll pay for it later.
BARACK OBAMA: So Cincinnati, we are better than that. We are smarter than that. And that's why I sent Congress the American Jobs Act 10 days ago.
SHAPIRO: As the crowd cheered pass this bill, the president took his Republican critics head-on.
OBAMA: Ya know, we've got a lot of folks in Congress who love to say how they're behind America's job creators. Well, if that's the case, then you should be passing this bill, because that's what this bill is all about is helping small businesses all across America.
SHAPIRO: A short walk from the end of the bridge, Greg Cook runs a sporting goods store. He thinks infrastructure jobs are a band-aid for the unemployment problem, and he's not interested.
GEORGE COOK: It's a short-lived fix. I mean the guys will be working on the bridge for a couple years and then they're out of work again.
SHAPIRO: And the truth is, construction on this bridge would not begin right away, even if the bill passes tomorrow. The White House says it never claimed this project was shovel-ready. One reason they chose this bridge is for the political symbolism. The Brent Spence connects House Speaker John Boehner's home state of Ohio with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Kentucky. On the Senate floor yesterday, McConnell said it would be great to fix this bridge, but the president's jobs bill won't get it done.
MITCH MCCONNELL: Don't patronize us by implying that if we pass the second stimulus that bridges will get fixed right away. The American people heard the same thing when the administration was selling the first stimulus.
SHAPIRO: But small business owner Jeffrey McLaurie says the first stimulus really helped this community. He runs Bromwell's fireplace and art gallery, which calls itself the oldest business in Cincinnati. He says the first stimulus helped spur a mixed-use condo development along the river, called The Banks.
JEFFREY MCLAURIE: There's 300 new families living there down at the banks and more coming, and those people are buying products from me and from other people downtown and in the region. And it also benefits and helps to repopulate the city center, which I think is very important.
ARI SHAPRIO: This Cincinnati trip is the latest in a series of jobs events President Obama has held across the country. Before this, he was in Raleigh, North Carolina, Richmond, Virginia, and Columbus, Ohio. No coincidence, those are also swing states he wants to win in order to get reelected in 2012.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News.
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