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House committee leaders introduce surface transportation authorization bill


Yesterday, leaders of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure — Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), Ranking Member John Mica (R-Fla.), Highway and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and Ranking Member John Duncan (R-Tenn.) — unveiled a six-year, $450 million surface transportation authorization bill to succeed SAFETEA-LU, which expires Sept. 30.

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 (STAA) proposes $99.8 billion for public transportation — a more than 90 percent increase compared with SAFETEA-LU levels. The bill also calls for investing $50 billion in high-speed rail.

"The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 is a transformational bill that will provide clear national transportation objectives and hold states and local governments accountable for how they spend federal transportation funds," DeFazio said in a prepared statement."

The bill calls for consolidating or terminating more than 75 transportation programs and focusing the majority of transit funding into four core categories designed to bring urban and rural public transit systems to a state of good repair; provide specific funding to restore transit-rail systems; provide mobility and access to transit-dependent individuals; and foster the planning, design and construction of new transit lines and intermodal facilities.

In addition, the legislation calls for creating a National Transportation Strategic Plan, based on long-range transit, rail and highway plans developed by states and metropolitan regions to create intermodal connectivity of the nation's transportation systems and identify projects of national significance. State and local governments would establish transportation plans with specific performance standards, measure their progress annually and periodically adjust their plans as necessary. The legislation would establish an Office of Intermodalism within the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Office of the Secretary charged with overseeing the development and implementation of the national transportation plan.

STAA would "significantly reduce the time and administrative burden for projects in the approval process," and restructure key functions and offices within USDOT to institute reforms and processes that "foster greater collaboration and efficiency," according to the legislation's executive summary. On the transit side, that means restructuring the New Starts and Small Starts programs to speed project delivery and provide a "level playing field for local decision-making," the summary said.

The high-speed rail funding would finance the planning, design and construction of 11 federally designated high-speed corridors. Greater consideration would be given to projects that encourage intermodal connectivity; produce energy, environmental and other public benefits; create new jobs; and leverage contributions from state and private sources.

Finally, the bill would provide state formula grant funding for freight and goods movement projects, and help improve states' ability to conduct freight planning.

The funding mechanism for the federal transportation program — the Highway Trust Fund — is "in crisis" and does not have adequate revenue to meet existing commitments by the federal government, the summary said. However, the bill does not address where increased revenues will come from to finance the program. That portion of the legislation must be developed by the House Committee on Ways & Means, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

Several associations and organizations have commented on STAA.

"[We] commend the committee for its thoughtful approach to address our nation's transportation needs and is extremely pleased that its proposal incorporates several proposals advanced in APTA's "Recommendations on Federal Public Transportation Law."

U.S. Conference of Mayors (commending the House committee's inclusion of a Metropolitan Mobility Program):
"For too long, the federal government has relied on cookie cutter formulas that don't produce the outcomes we want. It's time to allocate funds in a way that most effectively reduces congestion in our nation's cities and targets transportation investment to centers of housing and employment."

Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors:
"[CAGTC] commends the House leadership for introducing a blueprint framework that includes a number of the critical programmatic components necessary to address goods movement infrastructure needs in the next surface transportation authorization." The coalition added that, in order to address the nation's freight needs, the bill must include "a holistic, multi-modal approach for our national goods movement system that includes highway, rail, port and intermodal projects."

American Society of Civil Engineers:
"The blueprint ... will form a solid foundation for the future of the nation's transportation systems."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/19/2009