New Period of Transit
In April, the PBS program Blueprint America interviewed Representative Jim Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, allowing him to discuss the new transportation plan that his committee was drafting at the time. Of course, the Surface Transportation Authorization Act 2009 was released early this summer, but these early comments indicate his vision for a new transportation plan in America.
Rep. Oberstar states that he sees this time as “the beginning of a new period of transit.” While he acknowledges that the entire Department of Transportation will need to be transformed in order to update the current national system, Oberstar remains optimistic about the transformation. One of the first steps on his agenda will be an overhaul of the current policy that disproportionally favors highway investments over a transit system upgrade. Currently, highway projects can receive close to 80% of funding from the federal government, with the state providing the remaining 20% of the full budget. In contrast, transit system projects tend to receive about 50% of federal money, giving the states less incentive to invest in public transportation.
How will fundamental change occur in the policies? For Rep. Oberstar, it is a matter of changing mind-sets. He states, “We have to now transform our thinking — to link land use and development to transportation. And not require transportation to go where the land use went.” It is important to connect issues related to smart growth to the transportation debate, because the two are interconnected. Transportaton for America and 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania are two organizations that have been advocates for this approach, and have been vocal in their support of a transportation agenda that focuses on land development issues. Oberstar is hopeful that the Surface Transportation Authorization Act will serve, in part, as a tool for viewing transportation in a new light.
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