Ed. Note: The following is cross-listed with the Department of Transportation blog.
Last week, as President Obama addressed Congress on the American Jobs Act, Kirk Bergstrom, a construction engineer from Centennial, Colorado, who personifies our economic challenges, sat in the First Lady’s box.
Here's what I mean. Kirk Bergstrom is a stand-up guy, one of those Americans who has played by the rules all his life. He went to college to improve his opportunities. He developed his skills and experience through more than a decade working in his field. He got married and began raising a family. He was doing all the right things.
Then, when the recession began, he was laid off from a company he'd been with for 11 steady years. He was picked up by another construction company, but was laid off again. Hired back by his original company, he was again let go when the projects dried up.
For long stretches during this period--three months, six months, another six months--Kirk was unemployed. But even then he would not give up. He took part-time work in a warehouse while his wife struggled to hold down different part-time jobs. The bills--mortgage, utilities, groceries--piled up.
"My wife and I," Kirk says, "would sit up at night and just stare at each other, not knowing what to say."
In September 2010, Kirk was hired by Ames Construction to work on a highway project--in Kansas. He knew it would be difficult to leave his family, and they knew it would be a hardship for them, but they were ready to endure whatever they could to help ease their financial stress.
Then, Ames Construction won a bid to build a light rail line between Denver's Union Station and the Denver International Airport, part of a major transit project funded in part by the Federal Transit Administration. Now, Kirk says he enjoys more security than he's felt in years, once again earning a professional salary and working in his field.
"Oh, I feel really good about this job," he says. "I'm actually adding some value again, rather than just going through the motions. And my wife and I are sleeping at night now, which is good."
That opportunity would not have come if it were not for significant federal investments in transportation. Kirk agrees: "Without all the transportation construction in Denver, I wouldn't be employed right now."
In Denver and across the country, we have invested in transit projects to improve cities and communities by connecting people to where they need to go. Today--thanks to federal investments like those proposed in the American Jobs Act--there are Kirk Bergstroms from coast to coast, men and women who are back on the job, working on good projects that solve transportation problems in their communities.
And if Congress acts quickly to pass the American Jobs Act, we can put many more people like Kirk Bergstrom back to work soon.
Ray LaHood is the Secretary of Transportation.
Find out more about the American Jobs Act