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Should the Feds Fund City Transpo Projects? Blumenauer and Shuster Discuss

2:18 PM PST on January 26, 2012

If the Transportation Research Board annual meeting were a music festival, the headline act would have been yesterday’s panel of six secretaries of transportation, including Ray LaHood (the incumbent) and Alan Boyd (the first to ever hold the post). As headliners go, they were a bit of a downer: They told a standing-room-only crowd that they’re all pretty worried about America’s ability to deliver the transportation policy the country needs.

By comparison, their opening act was a little more upbeat. Congressmen Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Railroads Subcommittee in the House, and Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and former member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, held forth on ”The Future Federal Role in Transportation.” They demonstrated a little more reason for optimism than the secretaries did.

For one thing, Shuster defended the explicit constitutional responsibilities of the federal government to provide for infrastructure. And when asked about transportation’s relationship to global trade, Shuster said, “When you’re talking about trade, you’re talking about transportation,” since goods need to be shipped from factory to port to overseas. “Sometimes, my party doesn’t link the two.” It was a display of nonpartisanship that hearkened back to the days when, in Blumenauer’s words, “Congress had three parties: Democrats, Republicans, and the T&I Committee.” (Bill Shuster’s father Bud chaired that committee from 1995 to 2001.)

But Shuster also opened his remarks with the announcement that his party’s five-year surface transportation bill would be unveiled on Friday. And, less than 12 hours removed from a State of the Union address that stressed an “all-out, all-of-the-above” energy policy, he was all too happy to suggest the inclusion of gas and oil drilling revenue to pay for it. Blumenauer, on the other hand, pointed out that oil and gas drilling doesn’t represent “anything near what’s necessary” fund transportation spending at current levels, given the declining power of the gas tax. Blumenauer expressed his hope that “sometime in the coming decade, we can move away from the gas and diesel fuel tax, and to something more stable, fair, and efficient” in the form of a mileage-based fee system. Blumenauer’s home state of Oregon, which he pointed out was the first state to institute a gas tax dedicated to transportation funding, is in the midst of an experiment to implement VMT fees.

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