U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta
reiterated the Bush administration’s support for private-public partnerships in
the pending transportation bill – including tolling – during a speech to a national
group of road builders Dec. 8.
“In the 21st Century, the public and private sectors must
embrace each other as partners in building and maintaining the transportation
infrastructure that will keep America’s economy moving forward,” Mineta said in
prepared remarks to members of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.
“New flexibilities for private activity bonds, TIFIA and
design-build, debt service reserves for transit, environmental streamlining,
and tolling and road pricing will get us off to a running start in encouraging
private-sector support for infrastructure investments.”
TIFIA refers to
Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998, which
provides Federal credit assistance to large-scale highway, transit, passenger
rail and intermodal projects. A TIFIA loan, line of credit or loan guarantee
can be used by public or private transportation sponsors to complete a
project's funding package.
OOIDA has consistently opposed allowing tolling on
outlets and political pundits have speculated for some time that Mineta would
leave the Cabinet before the beginning of President George W. Bush’s second
term. The secretary has been in federal service for some time – including
serving both President Bush and President Clinton in Cabinet posts – and has
been plagued in recent years by health problems.
some of the remarks he made during his appearance at the group’s lunch indicate
that he plans to stay in his position – at least until the much-delayed
transportation bill finally passes Congress.
“Clearly, the first and foremost focus of our energies
early in the coming year must be working with the Congress to pass this
long-overdue legislation, so that states and local communities can move forward
with their investment plans,” Mineta said.
secretary also indicated that he was holding firm in his opposition – supported
by the president – to any measure that would increase fuel or other current
taxes to pay for additional roadwork.
Quarterly reported that Mineta reiterated that he and the
administration would not support a highway bill that contained tax increases,
more borrowing or any other steps that would increase the deficit.
However, administration support for tolling remains firm.
Tolling provisions were part of the Senate version of the
highway bill, which Congress has battled over since the last six-year
authorization bill expired in September 2003. Highway funding has been extended
several times since then – the last time on Sept. 29, when Congress voted to
extend funding through May 31, 2005.
The House version of the current bill does not include
Bush administration also made clear its support for the Senate tolling
provision in a letter Mineta wrote to Congressional conferees June 22.
administration supports the Senate provision giving states broad flexibility to
implement variable pricing on the Interstate Highway System in order to manage
congestion or improve air quality,” Mineta wrote. “Given the dual benefits of
congestion management and increased revenues for infrastructure investment, as
well as the development of tolling technologies that eliminate the need for
toll booths, tolls have the potential to be much more efficient than other
methods currently relied upon to finance highway construction.”
OOIDA has put out several “Calls to Action” urging members
and other truckers to contact their representatives and senators in Washington
to convey their opposition to the tolling provisions.