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Federal Transportation Bill

Mica on the Next Transportation Bill: Size Matters

5:54 PM EST on March 1, 2011

We caught up with Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica today and asked him about the reauthorization of the federal transportation bill.

Streetsblog: First, I wanted to ask you what your thoughts are about the size of the six-year bill?

John Mica: Size matters.

(Long pause, Mica laughs.)

SB: Any guesses? Would it be limited to what’s in the Highway Trust Fund?

JM: We’ll have to see. What I hope to do is have four measures of value. One would be what’s in the trust fund and stabilizing that. The second would be any money that we can find that hasn’t been used in any previous authorizations or appropriations and move that. The third would be looking at programs where we could leverage funds, like public private partnerships, bonding – and the fourth area that I would like to count would be speeding up the process. We’ve heard in the hearings we’ve done so far that the time the process takes runs the cost up, and very often projects go on for years and sometimes decades.

So those are the measures that would get me to a total figure. And I would like the size bigger rather than smaller. We’ll see what we can do.

SB: You’ve been a real supporter of mass transit and there aren’t many Republicans who are…

JM: Well, where the projects make sense. You have to look at the value, the cost-effectiveness, the routing, and the public support.

SB: Is there a way that you can talk – or that you can recommend that advocates can talk – to Republicans in a way that makes sense to them instead of a way that has been alienating?

JM: Republicans are most interested in cost-effectiveness. What they’ve seen is some wasteful projects. They’ve seen the administration take an $8 billion appropriation for high-speed rail and turn it into a Christmas tree, and many people are now returning the ornaments. I think Republicans will support sound infrastructure projects; they just have to be evaluated on a cost-effective basis.

SB: Will the next bill have the same 80/20 highway-to-transit split?

JM: We haven’t decided that, but given the mix in Congress we’ll probably stay at about the same level. It’s just my guess, of course; anything can change. And you know, I only have 50 percent of the responsibility for the bill.

SB: And how are the conversations going with the Senate side?

JM: Excellent; we had the hearing, as you heard, in Los Angeles, and I think we heard some things on our listening tour and hearings that we can adopt, and hopefully we’re gaining support for a comprehensive measure.

SB: And are you already in conversations with the Senate Banking Committee [which has jurisdiction over transit] about the transit piece of it?

JM: We’re talking to folks; we’re not down to specifics enough yet. We’ve talked about some finance things with Senate, with Mr. Inhofe and Ms. Boxer a little bit, but everything so far is really preliminary. We don’t have anything – we’re not at a stage where we can discuss specifics yet.

SB: There’s talk about whether things like bike lanes belong in an infrastructure bill – whether that’s “real transportation.”

JM: Those are more specifics that we haven’t gotten into. But we have heard cries for consolidation and flexibility, so we’ll see how that washes out and how specific we want to get in the legislation.

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