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Government


Oberstar bill includes more money for transit, complete streets

Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), the House transportation committee chairman, is set to brief reporters this afternoon on his $450 billion, six-year federal transportation billwhich he plans to pursue regardless of the Obama administration's push for an 18-month extension of existing law.

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Jim Oberstar (D-MN). Photo: Jonathan Maus

But Oberstar's early outline of the bill, which could get a vote in the committee as soon as next week, is already available. And it suggests that the Minnesota Democrat and Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR) have made good on their promises for a sweeping re-organization of the often debilitating federal transportation bureaucracy. Here are the highlights:

  • The $450 billion price tag, which represents a 57 percent increase over the $286.5 billion bill approved in 2005, includes $87 billion in highway trust fund money for transit and $12 billion in transit cash from the Treasury's general fund. The 2005 bill gave transit less than $44 billion in highway trust fund money and $9 billion from the general fund.
  • Oberstar isn't about to quietly accept Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's admonition that the 18-month extension is necessary to "face reality." In fact, the committee's outline of its bill warns that an extension could be devastating to state DOTs that have "been unwilling to invest in large, long-term projects until enactment of the reauthorization act."
  • Highway funding would be consolidated into four funding categories, as would transiteffectively eliminating 75 funding categories from the current system.
  • Oberstar's bill would establish the National Infrastructure Bank proposed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and other senior lawmakers, making the bank part of a broader metropolitan access program that would support urban areas in achieving "improved transit operations, congestion pricing, and expanded highway and transit capacity."

And that's not all. Oberstar also appears poised to support "complete streets" principles in his bill, although his outline uses the phrase "comprehensive street design principles." The forthcoming House bill would also ask the Environmental Protection Agency to set national emissions reductions targets for the transportation sector, thus requiring state and local official to keep climate change in mind when planning future projects.

Oberstar's outline also attaches a number to the transportation funding gap that would result if existing law were relied on. Extending the 2005 federal bill for the next six years would result in $326 billion in funding, according to the House transportation committeeabout $125 billion less than the new bill Oberstar wants.

Of course, the missing piece is how to pay for that increased infrastructure investment. The revenue puzzle falls under the jurisdiction of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, however, meaning that Oberstar's will to fight LaHood on an extension may come down to how many allies the transportation chairman can find outside of his own committee.

Stay tuned.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog.

Government


LaHood asks for 18-month extension of four-year-old transportation law

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is asking Congress to extend the existing federal transportation law for 18 months, averting the coming insolvency of the nation's highway trust fund while putting off broad-based transport reform for as long as the Bush administration did in the days surrounding the 2004 election.

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Photo: AP

LaHood's request comes at an awkward time for Jim Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House transportation committee. Oberstar had planned to release an outline of his priorities for a new transportation bill tomorrow and vowed to oppose any short-term extensions of the Bush-era legislationexactly what LaHood is now seeking.

LaHood urged Congress to couple its extension with "critical reforms" to existing federal transportation policy that streamline cost-benefit analyses and help to promote more livable communities. But it's far from clear that such changes could pass Congress by the end of next month, when lawmakers are slated to leave Washington and must come to a decision on shoring up the highway trust fund.

In addition, LaHood's call to effectively postpone debate on long-term transportation policy reform may not sit well with the small but vocal group of lawmakers who would prefer to start a broader discussion this year.

Extending the existing law also puts off a discussion over whether to keep relying on the gas tax to fund transportation improvements or move to a new revenue sourcea politically volatile issue for the Obama team, but one that lawmakers from both parties increasingly say is necessary.

Oberstar plans to stick to his schedule for moving forward on a new transportation bill, his spokesman told Streetsblog. During an invitation-only briefing with reporters earlier today, he called extending the existing law "unacceptable."

LaHood's full statement follows the jump.

This morning, I went to Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress on the situation with the Highway Trust Fund. I am proposing an immediate 18-month highway reauthorization that will replenish the Highway Trust Fund. If this step is not taken the trust fund will run out of money as soon as late August and states will be in danger of losing the vital transportation funding they need and expect. 

As part of this, I am proposing that we enact critical reforms to help us make better investment decisions with cost-benefit analysis, focus on more investments in metropolitan areas and promote the concept of livability to more closely link home and work. The Administration opposes a gas tax increase during this challenging, recessionary period, which has hit consumers and businesses hard across our country. 

I recognize that there will be concerns raised about this approach. However, with the reality of our fiscal environment and the critical demand to address our infrastructure investments in a smarter, more focused approach, we should not rush legislation. We should work together on a full reauthorization that best meets the demands of the country. The first step is making sure that the Highway Trust Fund is solvent. The next step is addressing our transportation priorities over the long term.

Update: In an interview with Bloomberg, LaHood describes his decision as one to "face reality" instead of "stringing Congress along with three-month or six-month extensions."

Cross-posted from Streetsblog.

Government


Oberstar to release transportation outline on Wednesday

Jim Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will release a "white paper" on his plans for the upcoming federal reauthorization bill in a press conference on Wednesday.

It's important to note that the paper will serve as an outlinelegislative language is expected to emerge later. (Streetsblog Capitol Hill's bet is still on the final days before the July Fourth recess.)

Here's how Oberstar's office put it in an official release:

The authorization bill is currently being drafted and will replace the current authorization, SAFETEA-LU, which is due to expire on September 30. Oberstar has promised that the new authorization will transform the way the federal government invests highway, safety, and transit funds.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog.

Government


When will Oberstar's transportation bill drop? Place your bets now

At first it was slated to emerge by June 1. Then its release was said to slip to this week. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) now plans to release his version of the six-year federal transportation bill by the end of the month, with a full House vote unlikely to come before Congress leaves for its annual August recess.

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House transportation chief Jim Oberstar (D-MN) is pushing for a full vote on his bill before September 30. Photo: StreetsWiki

The uncertainty over Oberstar's time frame is making for quite the guessing game among transportation advocates, lawmakers and journalists. The latest bit of insider chatter, mentioned by van-pool lobbyist Chris Simmons on Twitter, has Oberstar releasing a "white paper"or briefing paper, in D.C. parlanceon his plans later this month before the complete federal bill emerges sometime in July.

Simmons has even suggested a betting line on when the House bill would finally see the light of day.

Oberstar spokesman Jim Berard confirmed to Streetsblog that the chairman's current goal remains to release his bill by the final week of June, although the constantly shifting congressional schedule ensures that nothing is set in stone.

Perhaps the most crucial question, then, is whether the timing of Oberstar's bill will have any effect on the Senate's willingness to take up the critical issue of transportation before the 2005 federal bill expires on September 30.

At yesterday's Bipartisan Policy Center transportation forum, few if any of the lawmakers and policy experts on hand believed the Senate could take up and pass its federal bill by the October deadline. Former GOP Sen. Slade Gorton (WA) quipped that "to believe the entire Congress is going to finish this transportation bill by September 30 .. is truly a triumph of hope over experience," while current Democratic Sen. Mark Warner (VA) was equally skeptical about his chamber's chances.

Warner, who sits on both committees with major jurisdiction over the Senate's transportation billBanking and Environment and Public Workssaid only that the latter panel is "very, very focused on climate change first ... I'm not sure I can give you an exact time."

The slowdown of progress on the federal reauthorization bill could be a blessing in disguise for transit and environmental advocates who want to see a wholesale re-examination of the irrational structure that has long governed Washington transportation policy.

But it also underscores the need to find a sustainable new revenue source for transportation funding, one that can stave off the looming bankruptcy of the highway trust fund while guaranteeing that money will be available to pursue much-needed reforms on the federal level.

Are any readers prepared to take Simmons' challenge and place a bet on the House bill's release date? I'll put the over-under at June 30...

Cross-posted from Streetsblog.

Government


Nadler transit amendment passes on voice vote

The House just approved Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY)'s amendment to add $3 billion in transit capital funding to the stimulus. They approved it on a voice vote instead of a roll call.

According to Nadler's floor speech, 1.5 billion will go to the transit capital formula program, which goes to all states, and 1.5 billion to the new starts program. The AFL-CIO and environmental organizations will "score" this amendment, he said, meaning they'll factor members' votes on this issue into their scorecard ratings for each Representative. Since it was a voice vote, though, we don't know who opposed the amendment, making that impossible.

John Mica (R-FL), ranking member of the Tranportation Committee and the House's leading pro-transit Republican, called this "an amendment we have to support." The Appropriations committee, he said, "took one of the most important parts out: that's the rail and transit." Transit infrastructure creates jobs, he said. "Support the Nadler amendment!"

Transportation Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) added, "we heard very clearly from the major transit agencies in this country. They have options for buses. They have options for railcars that could be exercised within days." Manufacturers can ramp up production and create jobs all across the nation.

Rep. David Dreier Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, "reluctantly" opposed since the amendment didn't cut spending somewhere else. Rep. David Obey (D-WI), the Appropriations Chair, gave the shortest speech: "I urge support to the amendment."

Oregon's Peter DeFazio: "Americans are loving their transit systems to death. There's $160 billion of deferred maintenance on these systems... there are 10,000 options for new buses, buses made in America. They can't be executed because our transit systems don't have the money." Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), mentioned light rail in Houston. "This bill must be a jobs bill. The [Chicago Transit Authority] head ... said she could spend $500 million tomorrow" putting people to work, added Dan Lipinski of Illinois. "Nothing will create more jobs than funding transportation infrastructure," said Staten Island's new Congressman, Democrat Michael McMahon.

Keith Ellison of Minnesota talked about the record transit ridership last year. Dan Maffei (D-NY) relayed recent news that the transit system of his hometown of Syracuse is facing deep cuts.

Nobody other than Dreier Lewis spoke against the amendment.

Update: The House also rejected an amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to remove all funding for Amtrak. "In 40 years, Amtrak has not turned a profit, and the federal government has continued to subsidize it." Flake, of course, didn't talk about all the federal subsidy to roads and airports, which he isn't trying to eliminate. Corinne Brown (D-FL), however, made that very point. "There is no form of transportation that pays for itself. None whatsoever. Whether we're talking about rail, airlines, cars, none of that. We subsidize all of that."

Government


DeFazio calls out Summers, introduces transit stimulus amendment

Won't Larry Summers please just go away? He already laid the groundwork for the current financial crisis and damaged Harvard's reputation. Now, he's steering President Obama and the stimulus bill away from transit and other infrastructure spending and toward tax cuts.


Larry Summers. Photo by World Economic Forum on Flickr.

According to House Transportation Chair James Oberstar (D-MN), the original stimulus proposal had $20 billion more for infrastructure, especially transit, but tax cuts crowded it out. He proposed a 60-40 split between highways and transit, but House and Obama negotiators took away more of the transit, shifting the mix to 75-25. On the Rachel Maddow show Friday, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) pointed the finger at Summers:

Almost all other economists agree that infrastructure is a better recovery plan than tax cuts. Infrastructure projects let the government guarantee their dollars get spent, not just saved, and then when you're done, the country gets to keep the new infrastructure. An overwhelming majority of Americans support infrastructure spending. But, DeFazio said, tax cuts over infrastructure was "the dictate from on high in the negotiations with Obama's advisers ... I think he's ill-advised by Larry Summers. Larry Summers hates infrastructure."

DeFazio is fighting back, at least a little bit. He's introducing an amendment to add $2 billion in operating assistance to transit, helping our transit agencies stave off painful service cuts at a time when ridership is booming. Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) will also be introducing an amendment to add $2 billion in capital investment. If they pass, those two amendments will restore only a small fraction of the $20 billion Summers & co. cut, but they're a start.

The first step for these amendments is the House Rules Committee, which decides which amendments can come to the floor. Rules will discuss these tomorrow. Please call Louise Slaughter, Chair of the Rules Committee, at 202-225-3615 and ask her to bring DeFazio's and Nadler's amendments to the floor.

Ask for a rule that allows it to pass with a majority of House members. Sometimes Rules requires a two-thirds majority for some amendments, which most likely dooms those; we want a majority.

Most of the time, House members disagree and negotiate behind the scenes. When they go public, they send a clear message that this is an important issue that they care about. Oberstar, DeFazio and Nadler are taking a stand. Let's have their backs. Call Slaughter now at 202-225-3615 and ask for Rules to bring both amendments to the floor under a simple majority rule. And tell your fellow readers how the call went in the comments.

Transit


Breakfast links: Actions for transit


Photo by rodeomilano on Flickr.
MoCo planning staff endorse light rail: Reports of Planning Board staff endorsing a bus Purple Line have been greatly exaggerated. A staff report released yesterday endorses the surface light rail option, including the segment parallel to the Capital Crescent Trail. "We have to grow, and we have to do it in a way that is sustainable ... in a reasonable way that is less dependent on the auto," said the report's author, Tom Autrey, according to the Post.

Sign up to testify Jan. 8: The next step is the Planning Board hearing to review this recommendation on January 8th. You can now sign up to testify, or submit written testimony to MCP-Chairman@mncppc-mc.org until January 2nd.

Save some stimulus for transit: House Transportation Chair James Oberstar is trying to ensure transit isn't forgotten in the rush-to-pork stimulus Congress is working on. Transportation For America has a petition to ask Congress to include transit for a greener stimulus. Twin Cities Streets for People created a video envisioning a future for Minneapolis after building all the freeways Minnesota DOT wants to spend their stimulus on. Via Richard Layman.

Falls Church debating suburban setbacks: Suburban zoning codes typically require large setbacks for buildings facing main streets (often to accommodate parking in front), but we've now learned that building closer to the street creates a more walkable environment. One developer is planning rental apartments and townhouses, including some affordable housing, within walking distance of downtown Falls Church and the Metro. According to DCMud, some members of the Falls Church Planning Commission "remain concerned about the developer's push for a variance that would allow them to build up to five feet from the property line, instead of the normally regulated twenty."

Yup, ugly: BeyondDC reviews the Post's list of the area's six ugliest buildings. On Georgetown's Lauinger Library, he writes, "You know that really pretty spire that's the defining landmark of Georgetown University? You know that massive concrete bunker in front of it that blocks the view of the spire from the Potomac? Yeah, good call."

Roads


SecDOT?

OK, some urbanism posting after all.

According to Politico, well-connected Democrats speculate that Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) or Jim Oberstar (D-MN) could be named Secretary of Transportation in an Obama administration. Via WashCycle.

Transportation falls near the very bottom of Politico's list, but near the top of ours. And should Obama win (currently 98.9% likely), you can bet that bloggers interested in transportation will start campaigning for a good choice on this issue. (Blumenauer and Oberstar would both be great.)

How about New York City Transportation Commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Khan? I hear she's interested, and has done great work up in New York. Plus, then we could get back Tommy Wells' transportation and smart growth policy advisor, Neha Bhatt, who recently moved up to New York to work for Sadik-Khan.

Development


Late night links: familiar battle lines edition


Concept sketch from LCOR proposal for the Tenley-Friendship library. Via ODMPED.
Moran, Oberstar defend transit: Virginia's Burke Connection covered Monday's town hall meeting in Tysons. Oberstar, the chair of the House Transportation Committee, got most of the quotes in the article, defending light rail and criticizing the federal funding formula which ignores many factors. And, like all pro-transit officials, he expressed a clear hope that things will change next year. "Shifting dollars from highway to transit? In this administration, that anathema," Oberstar said.

Smart Growth at Tenley library? The chair of ANC 3E (Tenleytown, AU Heights, and Friendship Heights), Amy McVey, is reporting that DMPED has decided to go ahead with a public-private partnership to develop the Tenley-Friendship Library site. Earlier this year, they solicited proposals for a private developer to build housing along with a new library and/or rebuilding the adjacent school; Ward 3 Vision supported the idea, while some members of the community opposed it. A mixed-use project would better utilize this key corner right by Metro. McVey says they've selected LCOR, but it's not clear how closely the final project will resemble their original submission.

Maryland town keeps out the Muslims: The Frederick County town of Walkersville stopped a Muslim sect from building a religious retreat on the town's largest farm, reports the Post. "Many residents told reporters they were nervous about the prospect of so many Muslims establishing a presence in their community." The landowner is suing, claiming violations of RLUIPA along with many other claims.

Parking


Breakfast links: thanks for emailing tips edition


Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.
Sausage makers talk trains: Northern Virginia's Congressman Jim Moran is holding a town hall on called "From Roads to Rail" on Monday evening, July 7th in Tysons. House Transportation Chairman James Oberstar will speak too. Thanks bfox!

Next, Manhattan? Urban farming has transformed people's diets from imported canned goods to fresh local vegetables in Cuba. Cuba's big agribusiness may be inefficient, but look for more of this in the developed world as energy prices go up and up. From the International Herald Tribune. Thanks Bianchi!

Not another drive-thru: Walgreens is planning to build on a former gas station at Veazey and Connecticut, right by the Van Ness stop, reports reader Steve. The somewhat-good news: they're seeking a variance to build only 27 parking spaces instead of 40 (it should be even fewer). The less-good news: Walgreens gets to keep all the curb cuts the gas station had, and so they're building a drive-through. We should not be building drive-throughs in urban areas, especially not next to Metro stations.

Cardin on transit: Ben Cardin, Delaware's slightly less well known Senator Maryland's newest Senator and a great advocate for transit, gets interviewed by Grist. He talks about the transit component of the Climate Security Act, which he authored (and which failed to pass a Republican filibuster this year). Oops, I confused Carper and Cardin. We have a wealth of pro-transit Senators whose names start with 'Car'.

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