Well, the people have spoken and the results are that we have a very different Congress than we have had over the past two years. What does this mean for some of the larger transportation initiatives yet to be implemented?
The biggest transportation initiative is the reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU – the federal transportation funding legislation. This legislation sunset in October 2009 and Congress has been extending it incrementally over the past year. The biggest advocate for reauthorization was Representative James Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mr. Oberstar was one of the many Democratic incumbents not re-elected last Tuesday. Months ago, Oberstar outlined a $500 billion transportation bill – significantly higher than current funding levels. However, without a viable source of revenue – no one will support an increase in the gas tax – the proposal has gone nowhere and is not likely to go anywhere in a Republican-led House.
So what is going to happen? Well, Republican Congressman John Mica of Florida is likely to take over as Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He is likely to propose a transportation policy that differs in important ways from the draft produced by Oberstar.
Remember, the Highway Trust Fund revenues continue to decline, leaving lawmakers to face the challenge of raising the motor fuels tax or finding alternative sources of money. Mica has indicated he is not in favor of a gas tax increase and has suggested replacing the per-gallon tax with a percentage sales tax on gasoline. He also advocates more public-private transportation partnerships, large-scale bond issues, and speedier approval of infrastructure projects. Does he have enough support? Can additional revenues be raised or will the next two years look like the past two years – costs increasing and revenues declining?
Let’s hope that we can all get on the same page and find a way to increase revenues so that badly needed transportation improvements can be funded and people put to work on a long-term basis. We need a long-term transportation bill so transportation agencies/cities can plan for the systematic improvement of the system and contractors can hire people and buy equipment. This Congress has precious little time before the next election comes along. Tic Toc.