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Oberstar Stays Optimistic About New Transport Bill in 2010

House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) on Friday
renewed his call for action on a new federal infrastructure bill before
year's end, using a hearing on the Obama administration's stimulus law
to urge passage of long-term legislation as well as a second round of
short-term investment in roads, bridges, and rail.

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

invited Joyce Fisk, a construction worker from his home state who
gained employment thanks to a stimulus contract, for a
second appearance
before his panel. After hailing Fisk's "appeal"
for a new federal transport law to boost the recession-ravaged
construction industry, Oberstar warmly cited the move by Senate
environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
to use his bill as a
starting point
in crafting her transportation measure.

The Minnesotan, who clashed
with the White House this year over its preference to delay
new transport legislation until 2011, said he was "encouraged that we
will be
able to complete the bill in this session of Congress."

One unspoken source of urgency for Oberstar and fellow House
members: waiting until next year to take up a new transport bill would
mean starting from scratch after the midterm elections, which could
significantly shrink the size of the Democrats' majority. A more
conservative transport committee would complicate the path to passage
for the new transit spending envisioned in Oberstar's
current bill

Oberstar was the dominant force at today's stimulus hearing,
scheduled for a Friday afternoon when many members were in the process
of returning home for Congress' Easter recess. The chairman took the
opportunity to press witnesses on unresolved policy controversies,
including the
debate over
allowing transit agencies to spend federal aid on
operating -- a representative for the transit industry's lobbying group
called for extending the 10-percent flexibility approved
last year
-- and the need for Senate movement on the "second
that cleared the House in December.

"We have to sustain those existing jobs and investments so the
private sector can catch up -- one more summer of stimulus will set the
stage and move the country forward," Oberstar said, deeming the Senate's
progress on infrastructure job creation "not sufficient."

During a discussion on the massive financing gap that is bogging
down the next transport bill, Oberstar also pooh-poohed the prospects of
tolling interstate highways built during the road program's postwar
heyday. Pennsylvania is currently
for federal approval to add tolls to an existing

"We're not going to allow tolling of the interstate highway
system," Oberstar said. "It's already been built and paid for."

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