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3/30/2011



Rail News: Passenger Rail

House Highways and Transit Subcommittee begins hearing on surface transportation reauthorization


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Yesterday, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit began a two-day hearing on pending surface transportation reauthorization to solicit suggestions from transportation industry officials on how to improve the infrastructure project approval process.

During the past month, the transportation committee has held 16 "listening sessions" around the country to gather similar input from state and local communities. Following hearings in Washington, D.C., work will begin on writing a six-year bill, according to a press release from Committee Chairman John Mica’s (R-Fla.) office.

"Fiscal constraints and calls for Congress to redefine the federal role in surface transportation will require us to consider dramatic changes to these programs," U.S. Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), subcommittee chair, said in a prepared statement.

One of the subcommittee's key focuses will be streamlining the project approval process, as well as developing “innovative financing,” such as bond and loan programs, and public-private partnerships, he said.

About 40 witnesses were expected to testify during the two days. On the first day, American Public Transportation Association President William Millar urged Congress to increase investment in public transportation.

"New federal investment would produce much needed progress toward bringing our nation’s public transportation infrastructure up to a state of good repair and building the capacity for millions of new riders," Millar said in a prepared statement.

He offered three policy suggestions for consideration:

• Eliminate "overly burdensome" requirements and approval processes in the New Starts program;
• Expand the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act; and
• Continue funding for the Small Transit Intensive Cities program.

Meanwhile, the Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) called on Congress to establish a national freight transportation policy and designate a national freight transportation system that would include designation of multi-modal national freight corridors — as recommended by the Obama Administration’s proposed transportation budget for fiscal-year 2012.

CAGTC recommended the following elements be included in the transportation legislation:

• Establish a new U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Multi-Modal Freight to develop a national freight plan;
• Create a dedicated freight program that would provide an adequate and stable funding stream, such as a new freight-user fee; and
• Partner with the private sector to leverage public funds and encourage private participation in project financing and development.

"A truly strategic freight mobility program would serve the economic needs of our country in the near term and for generations to come by investment decisions that optimize freight mobility and support economic expansion and continually improving standards of living," said CAGTC Chairman Mortimer Downey III in a prepared statement.


 






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