December 1, 2008
From Colorado to Capitol Hill, Experts Propose a Public Transportation ‘Wish List’
What will a new president and a Congress with Democratic gains mean to public transportation’s future?
This question is being debated, discussed, and presented across the country in a range of venues, from Illinois to Colorado – and Capitol Hill.
“Our transportation network has been the envy of the world, but we’re starting to fall behind,” warned Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN). He cited the dreary financial forecast as “all the more reason to invest in transportation infrastructure.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who hope to allocate $500 billion for infrastructure in the next surface transportation bill acknowledge that enough funds had not been previously appropriated. “It’s not a sexy political topic, said Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), “but it’s the kind of thing people expect government to do.”
Also part of the symposium was Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), who cautioned against people thinking that “money will flow from the skies to Chicago because Barack Obama is in the White House,” and Illinois Transportation Secretary Milton Sees, who said: “Everyone understands we need a capital bill, but it comes down to how you pay for it.”
Steve Simmons, deputy executive director of the TX DOT who spoke as a representative of the Transportation Transformation Group, suggested that public-private partnerships, congestion pricing, tolling, and VMT pricing will be future sources of transportation funding.
The Secretary of the Louisiana DOT and Development, William D. Ankner, suggested that the federal government abolish the fuel tax and move instead to a “broad-based tax that is modal neutral,” such as increased income taxes or sales taxes, “by a factor that would produce sufficient funds for the transportation system.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, also held a press conference in San Francisco expressing her support for the plan. “Spending targeted to infrastructure will create jobs here in America that cannot easily be exported,” she said. “Construction would be occurring here in the U.S. and would utilize materials made primarily here in the U.S., such as aggregates, construction machinery, asphalt, and cement.”
Rep. John Mica (R-FL), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, held two meetings Nov. 20-21 to review DOT’s planned request for proposals for U.S. high-speed passenger rail service, which the agency must issue by Dec. 15.
Revenue is always a concern, and to that end he said that APTA strongly urged an increase in the gas tax – pointing out that it had not been raised since 1993 – as well as working to develop public-private partnerships.
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