House committee sets $500 billion surface transport bill goal
The House version of a bill to reauthorize federal surface transportation operations would provide $500 billion for highway and transit infrastructure and safety programs over a six-year period, according to a legislative blueprint released Thursday by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar and three colleagues.
The funding goal includes $50 billion targeted to metropolitan congestion mitigation and transit and $25 billion for projects of national significance that support freight movement. The proposal also would establish a dedicated freight fund to direct federal aid to states for improving freight mobility on the national highway system and secondary freight routes. It would also include a first time allocation of $50 billion for high-speed rail to develop 11 rail corridors between major metropolitan areas.
The spending proposal is a significant increase above the $286 billion provided for highway and transit programs in the 2005 SAFETEA- LU authorization, which expires on Sept. 30, but is consistent with the amount Oberstar aides have suggested this spring would be his minimum spending floor for a new bill.
The T&I leadership said they intended to use the legislation to overhaul the Department of Transportation and insist that the department develop for the first time a strategic, intermodal national transportation plan that would attempt to guide disjointed long-range plans by state and metropolitan planning organization into an integrated approach.
Oberstar’s group said it intended to restructure federal surface transportation by consolidating or terminating more than 75 of 108 programs, and insisting that programs produce results improving safety, expanding capacity, and reducing air pollution. Some think tanks have suggested even more drastic streamlining.
The majority of highway and transit funding would be consolidated into four each of formula-based funding.
The lion’s share of funding, $337.4 billion, would go to highway construction projects, including $100 billion for restoration of the national highway system and bridges.
The lawmakers said that new revenue sources for the Highway Trust Fund are necessary because gasoline and diesel tax, and other minor user fees, are losing purchasing power and would only fund $236 billion worth of projects — $90 billion less over six years at current spending levels. But the blueprint does not specifically mention any new types of revenue sources to fund the plan.
Other goals include:
' Facilitating private investment in the national transportation system that furthers the public interest.
' Speeding up project delivery times by reducing red tape.
' Reestablishing an Office of Intermodalism within the secretary’s office at DOT.
' A National Infrastructure Bank to help finance large nationally significant projects.
Oberstar’s initiative would also require states to develop comprehensive freight plans in conjunction with freight stakeholders, establish new performance measures for freight mobility and reliability, and take inventory of the condition of secondary freight routes.
Many of the objectives in the legislative outline are consensus positions shared by many transportation experts and stakeholders.
An executive summary and the detailed blueprint can be found on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Web site. ' Eric Kulisch