An outline of the bill, hand-scribbled by Rep. Oberstar. (image via Blueprint America)
America's "happy motoring" days are over; now is the time for a "transformational" transportation policy. On this point, the Obama Administration and Representative Jim Oberstar agree.
However, while the Administration seems content to put the transportation revolution on hold for now, Oberstar, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has other plans. He is promoting a revolutionary 6-year, $450 billion transportation bill that would give America's transportation infrastructure its most dramatic makeover since the creation of the Interstate Highway System. Under Oberstar's Surface Transportation Authorization Act, a new strategic national transportation plan would be created to shape various modes of transportation (air, road, sea, rail) into one efficient, intermodal system. Among other things, the bill would cut 75 existing federal transport programs, increase funding for mass transit and allocate an additional $50 billion for high-speed rail.
In an interview with PBS' Blueprint America, Oberstar said:
We have to now transform our thinking — to link land use and development to transportation... In an urban setting, a mile of freeway may cost in the range of $46 to $50 million. The same mile of urban light rail will cost $26 million and move twice as many people — or three times as many people. And that is what we need to impress.
Meanwhile, a new report entitled Moving Cooler seems to support Oberstar's aims. Sponsored by a wide spectrum of organizations including the US EPA, Shell, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Federal Transit Administration, the report argues that sustainable transportation and land use policies (like those proposed in Oberstar's bill) are key to significantly reducing greenhouse emissions, saving fuel and driving down transportation costs.
Also, a poll conducted recently in California (where a state-wide high-speed rail system has already been approved, despite the state's economic woes) found that an overwhelming 77% support expanding mass transit and carpool lanes over building more highways.
A vote last week to pump $7 million into the Highway Trust Fund effectively pushed off a decision on the bill until the end of September, and the Administration opposes raising the gas tax (which could pay for the bill) during the present economic crisis.
Yet, for Oberstar, "delay is unacceptable." While he knows that the Obama Administration has other plans, he stubbornly continues to lobby for the bill. "In the end," Oberstar says, "the Congress decides, not the Administration."