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Oberstar’s New Transportation Bill: Get The Highlights

10:24 AM PDT on June 18, 2009

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 increaseover the $286.5 billion bill approved in 2005, includes $87 billion inhighway trust fund money for transit and $12 billion in transit cashfrom the Treasury's general fund. The 2005 bill gave transit less than$44 billion in highway trust fund money and $9 billion from the generalfund.
    • Oberstar isn't about to quietlyaccept Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's admonition that the18-month extension is necessary to "face reality." In fact, thecommittee's outline of its bill warns that an extension could bedevastating to state DOTs that have "been unwilling to invest in large,long-term projects until enactment of the reauthorization act."
    • Highwayfunding would be consolidated into four funding categories, as wouldtransit -- effectively eliminating 75 funding categories from thecurrent system.
    • Oberstar's bill would establish the National Infrastructure Bankproposed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and other senior lawmakers, makingthe bank part of a broader metropolitan access program that wouldsupport 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.

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