NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - With a strong breeze and the mighty Mississippi River at his back, Vice President Joe Biden touted the federal Recovery Act, also called the stimulus, during a speech Wednesday at the Port of New Orleans.
Biden is on a multi-city tour to mark the seventh anniversary of President Obama signing the act into law. The president tapped Biden to oversee its implementation and to work with communities nationwide who would benefit from the federal dollars.
"The Recovery Act is the largest single stimulus project in the history of the United States, larger than the entire new deal," said Biden before dozens gathered for his lunchtime speech.
The state's new Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, introduced Biden. Congressman Cedric Richmond and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu were also in attendance.
Before taking the podium, Biden toured the port.
The $800 billion stimulus package was designed to rescue the nation's economy. President Obama signed it into law on Feb. 17, 2009.
"One hundred fifty billion of that money went to bailing out the state of Louisiana and the state of Delaware, and every other state in the nation struggling with deficits," Biden said.
Not only did the money benefit ports, but was also available for school construction, and road and transportation efforts and other infrastructure upgrades. The Louisiana Department of Transportation said it got $430 million for road and bridge projects.
"And right here in Louisiana, the Recovery Act invested almost a half a billion dollars - $433 million for highway improvements, $33 million for transit projects, $19 million for aviation, $7 million for maritime improvements," said Biden.
"It gave us an opportunity to go from a 20,000-container capacity at our intermodal railyard to 200,000 containers, so if you do the math, for every 11 containers, that's one middle class job - $65,000 a year," said Gary LaGrange, CEO of the Port of New Orleans.
"If you look at the history of Louisiana and of this region up until Katrina, and then you look going forward going forward with the Recovery Act, it's actually been an inflection change. The dollars from the Recovery Act are providing the infrastructure that are creating the new New Orleans and new Louisiana, so it's been essential to what's going to happen here," said Michael Hecht, CEO of GNO Inc., which works to increase economic development in the region.
Port officials spoke to the vice president about the need to have the Mississippi River made deeper and the economic benefits that would result.
"They understand the necessity of deepening the river from 40 feet to 55 feet," LaGrange said.
And in terms of the widening of the Panama Canal, the Port of New Orleans expects to reap major benefits.
"As the Panama Canal opens later this year or early next year, we feel as though we're going to be one of the big benefactors," said LaGrange.