Oberstar's transportation bill a direct challenge to administration

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn.
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

DFL Rep. Jim Oberstar announced a six-year, $500 billion transportation spending bill yesterday to overhaul the nation's transportation system, in direct challenge to the Obama administration's proposal to postpone significant reforms.

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act would provide $337 billion in funding for highway construction, $100 billion for public transit and $50 billion to build a nationwide high-speed rail system.

"The reality is that the administration does not have a program."

The proposal would increase transportation spending by 38 percent. The plan's blueprint states that it will create or sustain approximately 6 million jobs.

In contrast, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced this week that the administration wants to delay plans to revamp the nation's transportation system for 18 months. LaHood asked Congress to temporarily extend the current authorization for highway funding, which is set to expire at the end of September.

Oberstar, the chair of the House Transportation Committee, expressed frustration with the Obama administration during an interview with All Things Considered today.

"The reality is that the administration does not have a program," Oberstar said. "They do not have a plan. They have not given transportation any thought. I have."

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The proposal would provide funding for 11 high-speed rail corridors nationwide and streamline transportation programs by merging or eliminating 75 separate agencies.

The plan would also restructure the Highway Safety Improvement program to focus on reducing motor vehicle crash fatalities and injuries, provide flexible funding to states, and fund a program to "improve air quality, reduce congestion and improve the public health and livability of communities."

Oberstar said he expects the proposal will reach the House floor by September.

The draft of the bill does not explain how Congress will pay for the increased spending. Oberstar said that he will consider a variety of funding sources, including bonding proposals and support from the private sector.

Oberstar denied that an increase in the federal gas tax would be necessary to raise the funds. However, the proposal mentions that Congress has not increased the gas tax since 1993, and claims that the lack of increased revenue could cause a loss of more than 3 million construction jobs.