By David Madden and Jan Carabeo
WILMINGTON, Del. (CBS) — The world was watching as President Barack Obama stepped up to the podium in Wilmington, Delaware, Thursday afternoon. It was his first public appearance since hearing news about the passenger jet crash in Ukraine (see related story).
“The United States will offer any assistance it can to help determine what happened and why,” Obama said. “As a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers wherever they call home.”
Obama visited the Port of Wilmington as part of a pre-scheduled event to talk about funding for infrastructure projects.
President Obama used the temporarily shut down I-495 bridge over the Christina River (see related story) as a backdrop today as he pushed a public-private partnership to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure.
“Wherever and whenever I get a chance to help families like yours I’m going to do it,” he said.
It’s not just a question of safety and security, Obama says. He sees it as a matter of keeping the country competitive with the rest of the world.
“Unfortunately, right now, our investment in transportation lags behind a lot of other countries’,” the president said. “China’s doing more. Germany’s doing more. They’re putting money back into building the infrastructure we need to grow over the long term.”
President Obama says the short-term fix to the Transportation Trust Fund only puts off the problem, so his executive order will help states and cities form alliances to create jobs and fix the things that need to be repaired.
Obama on Thursday created the Build America Investment Initiative, which he says will make it easier for the private sector to invest in projects.
“This announces the creation of a new center that will allow states and counties and municipalities to learn from each other and to easily access federal resources,” U.S. Sen. Chris Coons said.
“My administration is going to help states and cities apply for federal loans, get more public-private partnerships up and running, get more investments flowing in communities like wilmington,” Obama added.
Much of the repair to the tilting I-495 bridge will be covered by $35 million in federal emergency funding.
But the problem was not aging infrastructure. DelDOT says the tilting was caused by 50,000 tons of dirt placed beside the bridge by a contractor.
Yet, that detail didn’t dampen the excitement.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” Karen Gyaves of Wilmington said of seeing the President.
That excitement was felt at lunch too. Obama visited nearby Charcoal Pit and ordered a burger and fries.
“I’d be hard pressed to believe that recommendation didn’t come from Vice President Biden,” Gov. Jack Markell joked.
As for the work on the tilting bridge, that is ahead of schedule at this point. The new underground support columns were finished this week.
If all goes well, DelDOT says the southbound lanes could open before Labor Day.