From Transit for Livable Communities

Congressman James Oberstar served in the US House of Representatives for thirty-six years and, at the point of his defeat in the last election, was chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He influenced the last large transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, as a member of the minority party at time of passage in 2005. As Chairman, he drafted a new bill but now leaves Congress without its elements being debated in the House or factored into the Senate bill. His knowledge of policy and vision for transportation will be sorely missed in the Congress. 

Congressman Oberstar's contributions influence how people travel everyday in Minnesota and across the country. He pushed for the creation of the Safe Routes to Schools program that provides the infrastructure improvements and education that enables kids and families to rediscover the benefits and fun of “walking school buses” and guided bike rides to school. He was a champion of flexible funding, public transportation, and traffic safety. In Minnesota, when we think of James Oberstar, we think of the Stone Arch Bridge, trail projects across the state, the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (which we administer locally, under the name Bike Walk Twin Cities), and the Hiawatha LRT and North Star commuter rail.

Congressman Oberstar got people to think more broadly about transportation and its purpose. It’s not just about getting from point A to point B. Transportation is linked to economic vitality, public health, access for everyone, and protecting our environment. He understood that the transportation user is not only the motorist, but also the child riding his or her bicycle and the grandmother walking to the pharmacy. He knew –and convinced others– that transportation investments are the foundation of vibrant communities and a vibrant national economy that is globally competitive. What he worked for are things people want—roads in a state of good repair and a transportation system that includes all modes (roads, buses, rail, bicycling and walking).

Transportation is not a partisan issue; it is a core function of government. As a recent tribute to Oberstar from the National Center for Bicycling and Walking said, “It’s not transportation if we can’t all get there. . . . We all have an interest in a transportation system that costs households less . . . and allows the United States to maintain its economic competitiveness. Chairman Oberstar understood that everyone shared these goals and, as such, when it came to transportation, he honed his expertise, not his partisan arrows.”

As we look back on Congressman Oberstar’s achievements, we also look forward to seeing where he next will leverage his incredible knowledge and dedication. We will be wise to follow his example of reaching out to current allies and new constituencies as we seek to create the 21st century transportation system that families and employers need to prosper.

And, this being Minnesota, we borrow a line from Garrison Keillor to say to James Oberstar, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”