Bloggers Track Battle Over Transportation Bill

Transportation bloggers — especially advocates of high-speed rail and transit — may like Rep. James L. Oberstar’s surface transportation bill for its emphasis on multimodalism and reform at the Department of Transportation. But they’re not optimistic about its chances.

The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, they note, will need to reach out to important allies in both his chamber and the Senate to overcome White House opposition. Oberstar declared a delay "unacceptable."

"If we get this thing passed, in two years we'll have dramatic changes at DOT," Oberstar said.

But observers question whether that's likely in a year when health care and financial reform are at the top of the agenda.

“Let’s be honest here: President Obama is not going to expend his political capital on a major reform of the DOT this year,” independent researcher and blogger Yonah Freemark writes June 18 in The Transport Politic. “The administration’s priorities this year clearly aren’t in transportation, as a health reform bill will require the Senate’s attention throughout the summer.”

In a June 19 blog post, Freemark called the Minnesota Democrat’s bill “an ambitious vision for national transportation policy, representing a significant increase in funding and a focus on multimodalism.” He was disappointed, however, that the bill “retains the typically American focus on a car-based society.”

At pro-transit Streetsblog.org, Elena Schor argued the Oberstar’s “marginal improvements” in the highway-transit spending ratio “represent real progress.”

“The question for some transit boosters may be whether to support Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's push for an 18-month extension of existing law, welcoming the chance for more time to promote their priorities, or whether to align with Oberstar's plan and try to challenge the administration,” Schor writes.

The current transportation bill, in place since 2005, is scheduled to expire Sept. 30.

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s announcement that she favored the 18-month extension “will likely keep Mr. Oberstar’s draft in the draft bin,” said Freemark, who writes on transportation issues for both The Transport Politic and The Infrastructurist.

“If Ms. Boxer lacks Mr. Oberstar’s views on how to write the transportation legislation, the Minnesota congressman’s efforts are going nowhere.”

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