Oberstar’s New Transportation Bill: Get The Highlights

Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), the House transportation committee
chairman is set to brief reporters this afternoon on his $450 billion,
six-year federal transportation bill — which he plans to pursue
regardless of the Obama administration’s push for an 18-month extension of existing law.

oberstar.jpgHouse Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) has a brewing battle with the administration on his hands. (Photo: Jonathan Maus)

But
Oberstar’s early outline of the bill, which could get a vote in the
committee as soon as next week, is already available. And it suggests
that the Minnesota Democrat and Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR) have made good
on their promises for a sweeping re-organization of the often
debilitating federal transportation bureaucracy. Here are the
highlights:

  • The $450 billion price tag, which represents a 57 percent increase
    over the $286.5 billion bill approved in 2005, includes $87 billion in
    highway trust fund money for transit and $12 billion in transit cash
    from the Treasury’s general fund. The 2005 bill gave transit less than
    $44 billion in highway trust fund money and $9 billion from the general
    fund.
  • Oberstar isn’t about to quietly
    accept Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s admonition that the
    18-month extension is necessary to "face reality." In fact, the
    committee’s outline of its bill warns that an extension could be
    devastating to state DOTs that have "been unwilling to invest in large,
    long-term projects until enactment of the reauthorization act."
  • Highway
    funding would be consolidated into four funding categories, as would
    transit — effectively eliminating 75 funding categories from the
    current system.
  • Oberstar’s bill would establish the National Infrastructure Bank
    proposed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and other senior lawmakers, making
    the bank part of a broader metropolitan access program that would
    support urban areas in achieving "improved transit operations,
    congestion pricing, and expanded highway and transit capacity."

And that’s not all. More details of the forthcoming House bill follow after the jump.

Oberstar also appears poised to support "complete streets"
principles in his bill, although his outline uses the phrase
"comprehensive street design principles." The forthcoming House bill
would also ask the Environmental Protection Agency to set national
emissions reductions targets for the transportation sector, thus
requiring state and local official to keep climate change in mind when
planning future projects.

Oberstar’s outline also attaches a
number to the transportation funding gap that would result if existing
law were relied on. Extending the 2005 federal bill for the next six
years would result in $326 billion in funding, according to the House
transportation committee — about $125 billion less than the new bill
Oberstar wants.

Of course, the missing piece is how to pay
for that increased infrastructure investment. The revenue puzzle falls
under the jurisdiction of House Ways and Means Committee
Chairman Charles Rangel, however, meaning that Oberstar’s will to fight
LaHood on an extension may come down to how many allies the
transportation chairman can find outside of his own committee.

Stay tuned.