In a significant return to a controversial topic – the positive mention of which once earned him a sharp public rebuke from President Barack Obama’s press secretary – U.S. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood today in Chicago reiterated the possibility of vehicle mileage fees to help pay for mounting U.S. surface transportation needs. His remarks indicate a softening of Obama’s official position against the idea. Underscoring evolving bipartisan support, Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, the ranking minority member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, explains to a Florida paper today why the mileage tax makes sense, long-term. No such policy will be enacted anytime very soon, but could begin to move more seriously toward eventual mainstream adoption as part of Read More ›
For those who follow transportation policy closely, last week was an eventful one.
The week started with a June 22 release by the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee of its 775-page draft surface transportation bill, a “blueprint” of which had been released the previous week. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s decision (also released the previous week) to seek an 18-month extension of the existing surface transportation law was met with approval by some, regret and resignation by others, and incredulity and defiance by still others. In seeking a delay, Secretary LaHood joined a growing body of doubters that the crowded legislative calendar – controversial climate legislation, contentious health care reform, a Supreme Court confirmation, among others – would permit the House and the Senate to reach agreement on a new bill before the current law expires at the end of September. Our first priority, the Secretary said, must be to fix the Highway Trust Fund shortfall so that money continues to flow to the states without interruption.
The urgency of acting promptly, i.e. before the Highway Trust Fund runs dry in mid-August, was reinforced by a June 22 letter from Governors Ed Rendell (PA) and James Douglas (VT), to the congressional leadership. Writing in their capacity as chairman and vice-chairman respectively of the National Governors Association, they urged the lawmakers to pass an extension to eliminate the impending shortfall “as soon as possible” so that states can continue planning for and funding critical highway programs. The letter left a clear implication that the governors considered ensuring the continuity of funding offered by Sec. LaHood’s proposal to take precedence over a long-term reform of the program – especially given the uncertainty of finding the money to pay for the long-term program.
Further support for the Administration’s proposal came from the Senate side.
Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unveiled a blueprint for the next surface transportation authorization bill on June 18 to generally positive reviews (long version of blueprint here). However he left two key questions unanswered: Can the bill be enacted this year? and, Where will the money to fund the ambitious $500 billion program come from?
The first question has been pushed to the forefront by the Obama Administration. Last Thursday, Transportation Secretary LaHood surprised the transportation community and members of Congress with an unexpected announcement: the Administration will seek an 18-month extension of the current surface transportation authorization. An estimated $13-$17 billion will be needed to fund the program extension.
Reuters reports that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a senate committee the administration of President Barack Obama will not sign off on any hike in the increasingly ineffective federal gas tax, though Congress may propose that. LaHood’s declaration signaled that the Obama administration will take the same stance as former President George W. Bush. Revenue generated by the tax of 18.4 cents on each gallon of gas sold in the country goes into the Highway Trust Fund to fix U.S. roads and public transit. That fund has already been depleted once and Congress had to pass emergency measures last summer to replenish it. The tax has not been raised since the early 1990s… The Bush administration also opposed a Read More ›
Article as published in Crosscut During his successful campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama embraced the cause of surface transportation, arguing with gusto for improvements to inter-city high speed rail, for research and development to advance the mainstream adoption of alternative fuels, and for other green transportation initiatives. In contrast, his general election opponent John McCain trilled one note on the evils of transportation funding earmarks. To those who follow surface transportation policy, the difference between the two was stark: Obama won big points as the more knowledgeable, engaged, and passionate of the two. McCain appeared to be either out of his depth, disinterested, or constrained by poor political counsel. Now flash forward to our current and befuzzled times. While Read More ›
The newly-signed federal stimulus legislation includes $8 billion for intercity passenger rail projects – preferably high-speed rail in major corridors connecting metro regions. In addition, as reported by The Politico, the Obama administration will seek an additional $5 billion in high-speed rail funding over the next five years. The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated six main high-speed rail corridors, all of which would link major metro areas. Here’s a map. The corridors are: Eugene-Portland-Seattle-Vancouver, B.C.; San Diego-Los Angeles-Bay Area-Sacramento; South Central; Midwest; Southeast; and Northeast (a.k.a. “Keystone-Empire”). The California High Speed Rail Authority, which last fall won voter approval for $10 billion in bonds to help develop its system, has already prepared preliminary plans for how it would spend Read More ›
President-elect Barack Obama Friday is to name retiring Illinois Congressman Ray LaHood the next U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary. Though he has served on the House Transportation Committee, moderate Republican LaHood’s upside is his well established role as a bipartisan diplomat with close ties to Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as the Chicago Tribune reports. He’ll need to use well the relationships he’s built in seven congressional terms. The surface transportation landscape poses big challenges and real opportunities for establishing a new way of doing business. This article about LaHood’s appointment, from the New York Times, highlights several important menu items. Mr. LaHood…has overseen major spending projects as a member of the House Appropriations Committee….The next transportation secretary will Read More ›