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Fight Looms Over Our Dysfunctional Transportation Policy. Kicking the Problem “Down the Road”

After decades of neglect, a huge bill is due as the deficit soars.

by on Jul.07, 2009

DOT Project in Wyoming

A budget-busting bill of $500,000,000,000 alters Federal funding of transportation, increasing it 40%.

Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar has introduced a bill that calls for sweeping changes in U.S. transportation policy, as well as how taxes and fees are assessed to keep the now bankrupt Highway Trust Fund solvent. It’s a half a trillion dollar program.

He also wants to restore rail freight service, institute high-speed train travel between major cities, and increase funding for mass transit by establishing higher fees on highway users.

His “Surface Transportation Authorization Act Of 2009″ introduced late last month in the House of Representatives claims to be a “blueprint for investment and reform,” and directly challenges the Obama Administration. It has cleared a sub-committee, and markups are proceeding. [See Oberstar here]

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wants to defer the larger discussion of transportation policy that is being prompted by the impending bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund. It runs out of money this month.  And the current transportation bill expires this October 1, when the new fiscal year begins. The new bill has good bipartisan support in the House.


LaHood is kicking the core issue down the road.

LaHood proposes maintaining the status quo for 18 months by injecting, oh, $10 to $20 billions of dollars into the existing system to keep the money flowing to the states, which then can divert up to 50% of the money for other purposes. Oberstar wants accountability and coherence to the unsupervised spending. LaHood ducks this core issue by saying he thinks that it will take 18 months for Congress to “think creatively as we search for sustainable funding mechanisms.”

Translation: your taxes are going up

Gas Tax Free!

Gas Tax Free!

The Obama Administration doesn’t want to deal with this right now, although it’s tough for me to foresee just when increased taxes will become more popular. And what about Obama’s claim that it is time to stop kicking tough problems “down the road” — I guess that doesn’t apply to our actual roads.