Oberstar Stands Firm on Transportation Bill, Gets Industry Backup

In case any doubts
remained about his willingness to challenge the White House and the
Senate on prompt passage of a long-term infrastructure bill, House
transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) op-ed in the Politico this morning should clear them up:

0131mnfederal_dd_graphic_oberstar.jpgHouse transport committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) (Photo: Capitol Chatter)

Unfortunately, the administration and some in the Senate have suggested
an 18-month extension of the existing surface transportation programs.
This approach does little more than delay the critical reforms and
difficult choices that must be made now.

Under this approach, come March 31, 2011, we would find ourselves faced
with the same decisions, the same outdated and inefficient programs and
even more costly investment needs in all modes of our transportation
system. Moreover, given that the new deadline would come at the outset
of a new Congress, additional extensions are inevitable.

Worst of all, failure to pass a long-term surface transportation
authorization on time would bring significant uncertainty to states and
MPOs that must plan critical projects years in advance. They require
long-term funding assurances and stability from their federal partners
to proceed in this process.

Oberstar’s
commentary is strongly worded, but it stops short of vowing to stand in
the way of a shorter-term delay in taking up a new federal
transportation bill — an outcome that appears all but certain given
the 10 legislative days remaining until current law expires on
September 30.

"Delay for the sake of delay is
unacceptable," Oberstar concludes in the op-ed. That framing opens the
door, if slightly, to a compromise on a delay that would give Congress’
revenue-raising committees (Senate Finance and House Ways and Means)
more time to devise a stable funding source for the bill.

Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR), Oberstar’s chief subcommittee chairman, told The Hill on Friday
that he hoped to see a three-month extension, which would put off work
on a new bill until just after New Year’s. Others in the capital
believe a 12-month extension, as proposed by Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), would have a stronger chance of success.

But
DeFazio reiterated that Oberstar has yet to weigh in with his preferred
timeframe. In the meantime, the chairman is getting backup from a broad
array of transportation interest groups that operate under the aegis of
the Freight Stakeholders Coalition.

The
Coalition held a press conference this morning to reiterate its support
for passage of a new long-term infrastructure bill this year. The
American Public Transportation Association (APTA) was absent from the
lineup, but representatives of the highway, rail, trucking, and port
lobbies were in attendance, as was the Association of Metropolitan
Planning Organizations.