Oberstar argues for new authorization bill

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U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) joined U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) in a Capitol news conference this week to voice support for a new authorization of surface transportation programs and opposition to an extension of current authority which is being advocated by White House officials.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, July 15, voted 18-1 to extend the federal highway funding law by 18 months beyond its Sept. 30 expiration date; the measure next must clear other committees and the full Congress.

Oberstar, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Voinovich also were joined by House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D.-Ore.). All three spoke out against the 18-month extension plan and voiced reference for moving ahead with a six-year authorization bill. The current authorization is contained in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU act.

“The Interstate Highway System gave America its greatest spurt of economic growth in the history of this country, and we need to sustain that growth by sustaining the investment in surface transportation,” Oberstar says. “That is what this legislation will do. An 18-month extension will put us into a next presidential election cycle. It will take four years to finish, not a year and a half. I know how Congress works. Inertia becomes the enemy of progress. We are ready to move, and we should move now.”

Oberstar says the six-year bill is needed to give states and other recipients time to plan their long-term construction projects. Short-term extensions cause uncertainty and disrupt the planning process, resulting in fewer projects, fewer jobs and less economic growth, he says.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on June 17 proposed the immediate 18-month highway reauthorization to the Highway Trust Fund on behalf of the Obama administration. “The administration opposes a gas-tax increase during this challenging recessionary period, which has hit consumers and businesses hard across our country,” LaHood said.