Transportation’s future: status quo ‘not an option’

| 6/24/2009

Transportation leaders on Capitol Hill say the status quo for highway and infrastructure programs is no longer cutting it.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit is promoting new approaches in its six-year, $500 billion authorization bill that committee members hope to introduce and pass this year. The current legislation, known as SAFETEA-LU, expires in September.

The White House, meanwhile, has asked Congress to put off long-term transportation decisions for 18 months in favor of a short-term fix to shore up the Highway Trust Fund. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced that the trust fund will be broke sometime in August.

Subcommittee members, both Democrat and Republican, stood together to promote their 775-page transportation authorization bill on Wednesday, June 24.

Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-OR, and others took the opportunity to call down the alternative offered by the White House.

“The status quo is not an option. Every day we delay this bill means another day the government denies the public the transportation system it deserves,” DeFazio said. “The current surface transportation programs deliver process, not product.”

Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, said the full committee – which he chairs – will continue to forge ahead with the authorization bill.

“We intend to move this bill forward, this administration notwithstanding,” Oberstar said.

Subcommittee Republicans John Mica of Florida and John J. Duncan of Tennessee have worked closely with Oberstar and DeFazio to draft the bipartisan legislation. They also stated during the markup hearing that the White House plan does not address the pressing need for transportation reform.

Transportation hearings continue on Capitol Hill as specifics of the authorization bill are considered and debated. Highways and Transit Subcommittee members admit the bill is not perfect, but at least it’s out there for discussion.

Secretary LaHood is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday, June 25.

The chair of that committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, recently issued a statement praising LaHood’s suggestion that Congress should opt to address the Highway Trust Fund in the short term.

– By David Tanner, staff writer