Oberstar Stands Firm on Transportation Bill, Gets Industry Backup

In case any doubts remained about his willingness to challenge the White House and the Senate on prompt passage of a long-term infrastructure bill, House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) op-ed in the Politico Monday should clear them up:

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

Unfortunately, the administration and some in the Senate have suggested
an 18-month extension of the existing surface transportation programs.
This approach does little more than delay the critical reforms and
difficult choices that must be made now.

Under this approach, come March 31, 2011, we would find ourselves faced
with the same decisions, the same outdated and inefficient programs and
even more costly investment needs in all modes of our transportation
system. Moreover, given that the new deadline would come at the outset
of a new Congress, additional extensions are inevitable.

Worst of all, failure to pass a long-term surface transportation
authorization on time would bring significant uncertainty to states and
MPOs that must plan critical projects years in advance. They require
long-term funding assurances and stability from their federal partners
to proceed in this process.

Oberstar’s commentary is strongly worded, but it stops short of vowing to stand in the way of a shorter-term delay in taking up a new federal transportation bill — an outcome that appears all but certain given the nine legislative days remaining until current law expires on September 30.

"Delay for the sake of delay is unacceptable," Oberstar concludes in the op-ed. That framing opens the door, if slightly, to a compromise on a delay that would give Congress’ revenue-raising committees (Senate Finance and House Ways and Means) more time to devise a stable funding source for the bill.

Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR), Oberstar’s chief subcommittee chairman, told The Hill on Friday that he hoped to see a three-month extension, which would put off work on a new bill until just after New Year’s. Others in the capital believe a 12-month extension, as proposed by Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), would have a stronger chance of success.

But DeFazio reiterated that Oberstar has yet to weigh in with his preferred timeframe. In the meantime, the chairman is getting backup from a broad array of transportation interest groups that operate under the aegis of the Freight Stakeholders Coalition.

The coalition held a press conference this morning to reiterate its support for passage of a new long-term infrastructure bill this year. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) was absent from the lineup, but representatives of the highway, rail, trucking, and port lobbies were in attendance, as was the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

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