Friday, December 03, 2010
Rep. James Oberstar (Dem-Minn.) is about to leave the House after serving 17 terms representing the 8th Congressional District of Minnesota. He's spent 15 years as the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, with two terms as chairman. Oberstar has presided over or participated in some of the biggest highway and transportation bills in recent memory. But his vision for a transformative, nearly $500 billion surface transportation authorization bill was dashed when Congress couldn't agree on how to fund the ambitious bill earlier this year. Transportation Nation Washington Correspondent Todd Zwillich sat down with Oberstar in his Capitol Hill office to talk about the Congress and the future of transportation funding in an age of budget austerity.
"In the stimulus, the $34 billion we were allocated for highway and transit resulted in resurfacing and rebuilding 35,411 lane-miles of highway nationwide. That’s equal to ¾ of the entire state highway program. Yet that represents 4 percent of the state of good repair needs of our national highway system. Four percent!"
Todd Zwillich: Congressman James Oberstar of Minnesota. Thanks for being with us.
Rep. James Oberstar: My privilege and pleasure to be on the program with you.
TZ: I wanted to start with some transportation issues, of course since you have had your tenure as Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. You tried to achieve an ambitious surface transportation bill. It did not come to pass. … left undone, what do you think is the most critical transportation issue facing this country?
JO: A long term authorization for the surface transportation programs of the nation: highway, bridge, transit, highway safety. And the livability issues that have become such a centerpiece for transportation over the past dozen plus years, since the end of the interstate era and the beginning of a new era for transportation. Livability is foremost in people’s minds. Passing a long-term, six year authorization would give stability to the states, to the contractor community, to building trades, labor, to the transit sector, it will result in—if we pass the $450 billion bill—six million construction jobs over the next six years. It will give states the ability to bring our existing portfolio of highway projects up to a state of good repair and go beyond with major rebuild projects such as the Brent-Spence bridge between Ohio and Kentucky, which carries 3 percent of the GDP of the nation. It would allow Oregon to complete its work on a whole stretch of bridges that were sub-standard on Interstate 5 on the West Coast.
"This is the transportation bill of the future that we need. A funding mechanism for it is essential, that’s where it foundered. President Obama said that he could not support an increase in the user fee, the gas tax, which three Republican presidents have supported: Eisenhower, President Reagan, and President George Bush the first."
There are many other instances I can provide of major rebuild projects that are long term, create stability in the construction sector, but add to our GNP and ability to move goods and people more efficiently. This is the transportation bill of the future that we need. A funding mechanism for it is essential, that’s where it foundered. President Obama said that he could not support an increase in the user fee, the gas tax, which three Republican presidents have supported: Eisenhower, President Reagan, and President George Bush the first.
But the reluctance to
TN Moving Stories: Transportation Funding Woes Dog States, and Looking Ahead to Looking Back: Will Rear View Cameras Become Status Quo?
Friday, December 03, 2010
By Kate Hinds
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell wants to redirect $45 million in federal funds to stave off huge Port Authority service cuts, but says it's a short-term fix. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
NJ Spotlight writes about "New Jersey's troubled transportation outlook" and says that "a proposed subway to Secaucus and a depleted Transportation Trust Fund are only the beginning."
And PA and NJ aren't alone: Virginia is considering a host of options to help cover a massive shortfall in state transportation funding, including a small sales tax, tolls and the use of toll credits (Washington Post). And: Rhode Island officials are warning that "basic elements of the state’s transportation system are threatened. Officials responsible for both the highways and the transit system said a lack of money is undermining their efforts." (Providence Journal)
Now Ontario's transportation minister is getting into the transit fray, says it would be wasteful to scrap the $8.15 billion Toronto light rail plan because work has already started. (Toronto Star)
Rear view cameras could become more common in cars, as the Transportation Department proposes new safety rules. "There is no more tragic accident than for a parent or caregiver to back out of a garage or driveway and kill or injure an undetected child playing behind the vehicle," says Secretary Ray LaHood. (AP)
Buffalo Bills safety Bryan Scott bikes to practice. In Buffalo. In the winter. (Well, not when it's really snowing.) (Sports Illustrated)
Honda is ending production of the Element. (Auto Guide)
Outgoing congressman Jim Oberstar may land at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, where he's in talks about a possible role. (AP via Minnesota Public Radio) But first, he gave an exit interview to TN's Todd Zwillich, which aired on today's The Takeaway. Listen below!
Thursday, December 02, 2010
(St. Paul, Minn. — Bob Kelleher, MPR) Rep. Jim Oberstar on Thursday chaired his last meeting of the House Transportation Committee that he's served in some capacity for 46 years.
Illinois Democratic Rep. Daniel Lipinski said he's drawing up legislation to name a new Department of Transportation headquarters building after the outgoing Minnesota Congressman.
Lipinski joined members of the committee with words of praise for Oberstar. Comments were bi-partisan, led by incoming chair and ranking member Rep. John Mica, R-Florida.
"We are truly blessed to be able to serve the people," Lipinski said. "And the people have been blessed to have your service for these years."
Oberstar told committee members his service has been a long, fulfilling and productive journey.
Oberstar commended the significance of the committee's work funding enduring infrastructure like highways and bridges.
"That our body of work, when we leave this place, will be there for our children, that it will be an enduring monument for this country, then we will have achieved our goal of serving the public," Oberstar said.
Committee members from both sides of the aisle gave Oberstar two standing ovations and ongoing praise. Oberstar leaves office after losing his re-election bid to incoming Republican Chip Cravaack.
For audio of Oberstar's final hearing head to our partner, MPR.
Watch this site for a Transportatio Nation interview with Oberstar to be posted soon.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Democrats lost big on Tuesday, and it was only a tad better for alternative transportation. The fate of several high speed rail plans around the country are now in question as new governors take over and Republicans take over in Congress with a mandate to cut spending. (See TranportPolitic for more on that.)
From races where transit or transportation became an issue, to marquis ballot measures for new initiatives, here's our scorecard of election 2010 in Transportation Nation:
The race: 8th Congressional District, Minnesota -- Jim Oberstar Loses. The Incumbent Democrat, Chair of House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, loses to Repub. Chip Cravaack by 4,200 votes.
A champion of transportation leaves Congress. Rep. Oberstar has been in office since 1974 and was a strong advocate for transportation spending throughout. Even if he had won, he would have lost his chairmanship of the Transportation Committee when Republicans take control of the House. Still, his loss was unexpected.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) Chair of the House Transportation Committee was unseated Tuesday. He has served Minnesota since 1974, an he sure had a lot to say about his transportation tenure. Below is the full audio of his emotional, proud, and of course, transportation-filled farewell speech.
"In the business world when the profits of sales go down, the CEO says, well it was sales, or marketing ... in this arena you look into the mirror and say, it was me. But there is nothing I would take back. "
About 6:25 into his remarks, Oberstar starts to list off all the work he is proud of, and it reads like the list of roads, bridges, tunnels and infrastructure that cover Minnesota.
"I can't change, and I wouldn't change any of the votes I cast this year to bring us out of the worst recession, to chart a course for the future ... I wouldn't change any of the votes I cast to bring forward the stimulus. Because the bridge over Interstate 35 at North Branch will be there long after I leave office, and long after any successor. That's a 100 year bridge. And the bridge at County Road 17 over I-35 ... that will be there long after..."
As for what this transportation legislator will do next, he says he will reflect for a while and look for something "in the public arena."
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) We've been closely watching the intersection of transportation and politics on this site. Here are a few races where transportation may affect the outcome, or where the outcome may affect transportation.
The race: Maryland Governor -- Repub. Bob Ehrlich, Dem. Martin O’Malley
What's at stake: It's a race of rail vs bus. The two candidates each support extending some form of public transit to the area of Maryland in the Washington D.C. suburbs. O'Malley wants the proposed Purple Line while Erlich prefers a bus plan. Maryland is a deep blue state, so Ehrlich's chances aren't great. But O'Malley isn't hugely popular and this is not a good year for Democrats nationwide, so an upset is always possible and the Purple Line hangs in the balance. (Read more.)
The race: 8th Congressional District, Minnesota -- Incumbent Dem. Jim Oberstar, Chair of House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Repub. Chip Cravaack
What's at stake: Congressional control. Oberstar is currently the Chair of the Congressional transportation committee. He's in charge of the purse strings on countless transportation and infrastructure projects around the nation. He's called for a massive transportation funding package that would be less likely to pass without a champion at the helm of transportation committee. Even if Oberstar holds on in this tighter-than-expected race, he may lose his chairmanship if Republicans take control of the House. The ranking member of the House Transportation Committee is Republican John Mica of Florida, who, like Oberstar, has been a champion of increased transportation funding and high speed rail. In fact, Mica and Oberstar have joined to assail the Obama administration for not making transportation spending a higher priority.
"I view this as the most critical jobs bill before Congress ... we're going to do it together, one way or another, come hell or high water," Mica said in 2009 of the transportation bill. But it's unclear how Mica would hew to this agenda with a much more conservative, less spending-friendly congress. (Read more from MPR)
The race: Ohio Governor -- Incumbent Dem. Ted Strickland, Repub. John Kasich
What's at stake: High speed rail spending. Kasich has proposed repurposing the