Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, intends to start a process in February that can help his panel craft a new multi-year surface transportation bill.
Mica told The Journal of Commerce that beginning on or around Feb. 18 he plans to hold field hearings or "listening sessions" outside of Washington to get more input from local and regional officials on what should be in the next transportation legislation.
He also said his immediate top priority will be to complete legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. Congress has passed 17 FAA extensions pending passage of a new aviation bill, "so I've got to get that out first," he said.
"But running parallel will be the surface and transit bill," said Mica. "The first thing I plan to do is a series of hearings around the country, and listening sessions, and we're going to start that probably about the 18th of February."
Currently, Highway Trust Fund and related programs are continuing under short-term extensions by Congress. The Obama administration is expected to offer its own surface transportation proposals early this year, Mica will take the lead in crafting a Republican bill in the House and would need to work with a Democratic Senate to get a final bill.
While he did not give a target period for getting a bill through his committee or the House, Mica has previously said he wants to move legislation as early as possible in 2011 to prevent major initiatives getting caught up in the 2012 presidential election campaign.
The new T&I chairman wants to retool some current surface transportation programs to save money, speed up projects to release funds already approved, spur greater use of infrastructure loans from existing federal government programs and give more incentives to private firms to invest in transportation projects.
However, he said that "rather than me scribble out my ideas … we're going to be listening; we're going to be soliciting good ideas" from others. "So we're going to take the effort on the road." The T&I committee has not yet said how many of those field sessions will take place or where they will be held.
From that process, Mica said, "I hope to have a whole list of new financing ideas and how we can cut some of the red tape, learning from people first-hand and also educating members" of the committee.
Mica said 19 of the T&I committee's 33 members are new in that role, "so we'll be in some of those districts and then we'll be around the country. And then we'll come back, we'll draft it, in hopefully a bipartisan manner, introduce it" and try to move it through Congress.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.