A Federal Transportation Bill is Coming… But When?

Dodd_and_Lahood.jpgSenator Chris Dodd, whose committee is responsible for transit policy in the Transportation Act, with USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood, via SenChrisDodd on Flickr

Editor’s Note: We’re happy to announce the premiere today of our new Streetsblog Capitol Hill reporter, Elana Schor. Elana has rich experience covering Washington as a reporter for The Hill, the Guardian UK and Talking Points Memo. With major transportation, climate, and energy legislation before Congress this year and in 2010, she’ll help bring outside-the-Beltway readers inside the legislative process, break stories, and make Streetsblog Capitol Hill an engaging and entertaining must-read.  Welcome aboard, Elana.

Speaking to members of the National Retail Federation earlier today, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sidestepped what’s becoming one of the peskiest unanswered questions on the Hill: Will Congress delay the federal transportation bill until next year?

In his address to the retailers’ group, LaHood stuck mostly to his department’s progress in allocating
its $48 billion share of the economic stimulus bill. That stimulus
money would create so many jobs by summertime, LaHood predicted
jokingly, that many Americans would be "irritated" by the sight of
"people putting up orange cones" on roads slated for repair.

When
the topic turned to the timing of the forthcoming transportation bill,
however, LaHood offered few specifics. The former GOP congressman
declined to address a report in today’s CongressDaily, a
subscription-only Capitol newsletter, that the six-year transportation
bill "is almost certain to be punted to next year, if not significantly
scaled back."

LaHood did little to quell rumors of a delay in his remarks about the uncertainty
surrounding new funding sources for the bill. "There is going to be a
huge debate" over covering the predicted shortfall in the federal
highway trust fund, he said. "At some point there will be a bill
that’ll come out of Congress" that will address the funding question.

So far, the Obama administration has ruled out raising the federal gas tax as well as imposing a tax
on vehicle miles traveled (VMT), deeming both options politically
unpalatable during an economic recession. Asked by one retailer about
alternative funding options, LaHood mentioned increasing tolls on
highways, expanding public-private partnerships, and acting on the
president’s proposal for a national infrastructure bank — originally conceived as a $60 billion endeavor, but given $26 billion in the recent White House budget.

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