For Immediate Release: January 15, 2009                                                                     


Lea Schuster
Executive Director
Transit for Livable Communities

House Proposal for Transportation Infrastructure Spending Gets Recovery Moving by Broadening Transportation Choices

Congressman Oberstar Shapes Package to Improve Transportation System and Get Americans Back to Work

(SAINT PAUL). Congressman Jim Oberstar says 2009 will be a big year for the nation’s transportation system. As chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Oberstar is planning to introduce and pass what he is calling “the largest transportation investment package since the creation of the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s.”

Today, House Democrats unveiled an $825 billion economic recovery package including huge increases in federal spending on public works projects designed to create jobs.

The package provides $10 billion for transit and rail to reduce traffic congestion and gas consumption. It will include:

  • New Construction: $1 billion for Capital Investment Grants for new commuter rail and light rail systems to increase public use of mass transit and to speed projects already in construction. The Federal Transit Administration has $2.4 billion in pre-approved projects ready for construction.
  • Upgrades and Repair: $2 billion to modernize existing transit systems, including renovations to stations, security systems, computers, equipment, structures, signals, and communications. Funds will be distributed through the existing formula. The repair backlog is nearly $50 billion.
  • Transit Capital Assistance: $6 billion to purchase buses and equipment needed to increase public transportation and improve intermodal and transit facilities. The Department of Transportation estimates a $3.2 billion maintenance backlog and $9.2 billion in needed improvements. The American Public Transportation Association identified 787 ready-to-go transit projects totaling $15.5 billion. Funds will be distributed through the existing formulas.
  • Amtrak and Intercity Passenger Rail Construction Grants: $1.1 billion to improve the speed and capacity of intercity passenger rail service.

The package also includes $30 billion for highway and bridge construction projects.

“Congressman Oberstar’s leadership in shaping this package will ensure that Americans can get back to work,” says Lea Schuster, Executive Director of Transit for Livable Communities. “A 21st century economy depends on a 21st century transit system, and we’re proud to see America moving forward.”

In Minnesota, MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council are compiling lists of transportation projects they deem "ready to go," meaning projects that could put people to work within 90 days of funding. Transit for Livable Communities is working to ensure that the Metropolitan Council doesn't prioritize twelve new highway expansion projects in its Transportation Policy Plan.

“We understand the Metropolitan Council's desire to identify projects that would be eligible for federal stimulus dollars,” says Schuster. “We believe the current Transportation Policy Plan identifies sufficient projects from all transportation modes that would allow the Twin Cities region to take full advantage of federal economic stimulus funding.”

Not every group seeking funding persuaded Oberstar to include them in his plan. The Rails to Trails Conservancy had identified 101 ready-to-go bike or walking path projects, ranging in cost from $1 million to $3 million. The conservancy says that paving a bike or walking path is labor-intensive but does not require many of the expensive materials that go into building a highway or bridge. According to Congressional Quarterly, Jim Berard, spokesman for the House Transportation panel, said that states have flexibility in the highway program to use some of the funding for bike projects. He said that Oberstar has urged groups to lobby their state officials.

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Transit for Livable Communities is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization working to reform Minnesota’s transportation system. Through advocacy, organizing, and research, Transit for Livable Communities promotes a balanced transportation system that encourages transit, walking, biking, and transit-oriented development.