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Rep. Bill Shuster

Transportation Nation

Mica Gets Transportation Subcommittee Posts

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

John Mica (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Representative John Mica (R-FL) will retain some influence in helping set transportation policy, even though Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster has taken over as chair of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Mica was appointed to three subcommittees:  Highways and Transit; Railroads Pipelines and Hazardous Materials; and Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. He was also named chair of the subcommittee on Government Operations under the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Winter Park Republican says he's proud of his legacy as chair of the Transportation Committee.

"My replacement is fortunate in that we passed a highway bill, we passed an FAA bill that was stalled for many years under the Democrats, we passed a Coast Guard reauthorization, we passed pipeline safety legislation, so most of the major bills have been passed," he says. "So [Shuster] has time to reassess and then move forward with a highway bill and find a responsible way to go beyond the next two years. "

But Mica says it will be a challenge to try to fix congested and crumbling highways. "Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to increase gas taxes, and that doesn’t really even solve your problem because people are using even less of the traditional gasoline."

"You have alternative fuels, you have plug in cars, and you have cars going much further on one gallon of gas."

 One source of revenue included in the current transportation bill allows for extra toll lanes to be built on existing interstates like I-4.

Mica says Amtrak -- which he labels a "Soviet style passenger rail system" -- also needs reform, and he favors allowing private operators to run the passenger rail system.

Meanwhile, Mica says he’s excited about the prospect of private passenger rail starting in the state - with All Aboard Florida proposing a Miami to Orlando service beginning in 2015. "It'll be a project that actually will make money and pay taxes with the private sector," he says. "That's the way we need to be going with passenger rail service across the country."

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Transportation Nation

How Much High Speed Rail will $2.4 Billion Buy?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) It should be more fun to give away billions of dollars for rail. One of the happiest things a politician gets to do, after all, is fork over cash for transportation projects. All those gold shovels, ribbon cuttings, and bridge-naming ceremonies! And, one could argue, President Barack Obama and SecretaryRay LaHood should feel triply blessed. With today’s politics being what they are, they get to dole out money more than once!

But there’s something of a deflated mood around the bids that came in this week for the $2.4 billion in High Speed Rail funds that Florida rejected in February. The money seems a little tainted, perhaps, and politically heavy. It’s unseemly to celebrate over such federal largess when Washington is on the verge of a shutdown and budget negotiators are contemplating cutting vital programs. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Governor Rick Scott, elected as a budget hawks, decided the safe bet was to show restraint and send back big fat slices of transportation pie. By doing so, they left more for everyone else—but they also made the indulgence more fraught. These are hungry times, though, and money won’t sit around long. By Monday, twenty four states, plus Washington D.C. and Amtrak, had bid for pieces of Florida’s pie.

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What the Administration and rail boosters lost in the Florida debacle—a truly high-speed segment with right-of-way secured and private investors in line, that could have been built in the visible future (the next Presidential term, for instance)—will not be gained back by anything proposed Monday. Among the list of projects there is no item that will similarly turn a rail-less corridor into a futuristic proof-of-concept. The speeds mentioned are all easily imaginable by anyone with a decent car. Without a confidence in messaging that has so far eluded the Administration when it comes to transportation, it will be hard to sell this reapportionment as anything earth-shattering, or even (literally)  ground-breaking.

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Transportation Nation

Congress Could Get First FAA Bill in Years

Sunday, April 03, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) The House has passed a four-year Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill 223 to 196, setting up talks with the Senate that could lead to the first aviation policy renewal in years.

But those talks could get complicated by perennial political issues, as Republicans strive to weaken recruitment in some sectors of the aviation industry. There's even a veto threat coming from the White House.

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Congress hasn't passed a reauthorization for FAA since 2003. Instead it's racked up 17 temporary extensions as agreements eluded the House and Senate. Friday's House bill authorizes $60 billion in spending over four years for the FAA, airports, freight programs and even some new GPS-based air traffic control systems. That's a reduction back to 2008 spending levels at the FAA.

"It acknowledges that – especially in these tough economic times – the federal government must make spending cuts while at the same time providing necessary services and maintaining our current high safety levels,” Rep. Chip Cravaak, a pilot who chairs the aviation subcommittee, said in a statement. Cravaak, a Minnesota Republican, knocked off long-time incumbent and transportation committee chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010 mid-term election.

That take doesn't wash with a lot of Democrats.

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Transportation Nation

House Republicans Zero in on High Speed Rail

Thursday, January 20, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation)   High-speed rail projects could be among the first to go if conservative spending hawks get their way in the new 112th Congress.

Republicans are sharpening their budget shears, looking to make good on promises to cut federal spending and reduce the overall size of government. And it looks like high-speed trains are high on the list.

A new House budget-cutting bill introduced Thursday by the conservative Republican Study Committee aims to return federal non-defense discretionary spending to 2006 levels. It cuts more than 100 programs, including the more than $10 billion in high-speed rail money funneled to cities and states in the economic stimulus bill.

Overall, the RSC bill looks to slash $2.3 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years.

“This bill represents the first step in the process, not the last. To achieve long-term fiscal stability, we must finish the race by making the tough decisions Congress has put off for far too long,” said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) head of the RSC’s budget task force.

The RSC represents the conservative wing of the Republican House conference, so consider that the “high water mark” in negotiations that ultimately will have to satisfy Republican leaders, the Democratic-controlled Senate, and President Obama.

But other Republicans with direct influence over transportation projects also have high speed rail in their sites. They include Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), the new chairman of the subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, who has made it clear that high speed rail funding is about to face new scrutiny.

The newly-empowered chairman has begun to get critical of the way in which the Obama Administration doled out high-speed rail grant money, suggesting politics, and not practicalities, guided many of its choices. Shuster told CQ Today that the Obama Administration isn’t responding to his requests for information on how they chose where to steer high-speed rail money.

A statement on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Web site says high-speed rail has “potential” in transportation infrastructure. But it also suggests Shuster’s panel is getting set to go after the Obama Administration in hearings.

“The Committee will provide needed direction for this program, working to ensure that taxpayers are not burdened with economically unviable and ineffective projects. The Committee will seek to incorporate private sector participation in financing, building, and operating rail projects,” it says.

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