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November 3, 2008

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‘Invest in America, Invest in Transit’ Message at House T&I Committee Hearing

Amid increased calls for a second federal economic stimulus package, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard Oct. 29 from witnesses advocating for increases in infrastructure funding. The three panels at the packed hearing included representatives of numerous modes of transportation, including public transit, intercity rail, aviation, and water transportation.
“We must take immediate action to invest in America, rebuild our economy, and put America back to work,” T&I Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-MN) said in his opening remarks. He emphasized that infrastructure construction “cannot be outsourced to another country because the work must be done here in the United States, on our roads, bridges, transit and rail systems, airports, waterways, and wastewater treatment facilities.”
APTA Chair Beverly Scott, Ph.D., general manager and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, testified about a new APTA survey that identifies more than $8 billion in 559 “ready-to-go” projects from 170 public transit systems that could start within 90 days of federal funding being made available.  Pointing out that every $1 communities invest in public transportation generates approximately $6 in economic returns, Scott said: “I urge Congress to move forward with an economic stimulus package that recognizes the value of investing in our nation’s public transportation infrastructure. These projects will create new economic activity and put thousands of people to work.” She noted that the economic stimulus legislation will help provide additional infrastructure to meet the rapidly growing demand for public transportation.
Scott’s remarks also addressed the financial threat facing 31 of the largest U.S. public transit agencies, including MARTA, related to the ratings downgrade of AIG and other insurers. She called on Congress to ask the U.S. Treasury to intercede on behalf of the transit agencies by taking over the role of AIG and other insurers in Sale-in/Lease-out and Lease-in/Lease-out (SILO/LILO) transactions or, failing that, “to enact a legislative remedy in economic stimulus legislation or another legislative vehicle.”
Jerry E. Abramson, mayor of Louisville, KY, and former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, testified about that organization’s Main Street Stimulus proposal, which budgets $9 billion for public transit rolling stock out of a total of $150 billion. The proposal includes a list of projects that would be ready to go within 90 to 120 days, and would be finished by the end of 2009. Abramson said the plan would “improve the infrastructure, provide real jobs immediately, and help small business build even more jobs.”
John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, stressed that public investment in the transportation infrastructure “will help prepare the nation for its rebound by keeping steel mills going, cement trucks rolling, equipment manufacturing lines moving, and Americans employed.” He asked the federal government to “commit resources to transportation infrastructure projects that are ready to go and will provide meaningful, long-lasting public benefit to the economy.”
Both houses of Congress are expected to return to the Capitol following the Nov. 4 elections, but no details have been finalized about any economic stimulus package.

Changes to New Starts
Oberstar hinted that big changes are in store for the federal New Starts program. While discussing a New Jersey project with Gov. Jon Corzine, the chairman said the Cost-Effectiveness Index (CEI) “will be gone next year…[CEI is] out, done, through.”

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