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June 18th, 2009
Transportation Bill faces 'reality'

Tom McNamara, Blueprint America

Rep. Jim Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Expiring on October 1, the law authorizing federal highway and transit programs was expected to be renewed sometime this legislative session. This past Wednesday, however, Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood, under instruction from the Obama Administration, asked for an 18 month extension of the now four year old transportation law that would delay the planned reauthorization past the 2010 congressional midterm elections.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Sec. LaHood describes his decision as one to “face reality” instead of “stringing Congress along with three-month or six-month extensions.”

Still, Sec. LaHood’s request came just one day before Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat and Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, planned to announce the outline of the Transportation Reauthorization Bill.

Rep. Oberstar’s bill, released on Thursday, would not only replenish the nation’s highway trust fund – expected to become insolvent sometime in August – but would also overhaul all federal transportation programs – from funding to practices.



As Sec. LaHood told senior lawmakers on Wednesday of the Obama Administration’s request, Rep. Oberstar called extending the existing law, passed under President George W. Bush, “unacceptable.”

Regardless, the proposed Transportation Bill calls for $450 billion in federal funding, which is a 57 percent increase over the $286.5 billion bill approved in 2005.

  • $87 billion in highway trust fund money for transit; and an additional $12 billion in transit cash from the Treasury’s general fund. The 2005 bill gave transit less than $44 billion in highway trust fund money and $9 billion from the general fund.
  • 75 funding categories from the current system for highway programs would be consolidated into four categories – only one focuses on building new capacity and that money, once allotted to individual states, has the flexibility to be spent on new transit rather than new roads.
  • The National Infrastructure Bank, called for by President Obama and proposed by Sens. Chris Dodd (D., Connecticut) and Chuck Hagel (R., Nebraska – retired) and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D., Connecticut) and Keith Ellison (D., Minnesota), would be established – putting in place a new public works funding structure that could leverage current spending to create more capital for more projects.

Extending the 2005 federal bill for the next six years, according to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which the Obama Administration only wants to do for 18 months, would result in $326 billion in funding – about $125 billion less than the proposed bill.

Rep. Oberstar has said he will challenge the Obama Administration. A vote on the bill could happen as early as next week. Still, the funding and revenue mechanisms of the bill will be left up to the House Ways and Means Committee – where the Transportation Bill could be stalled without the President’s support.

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