By Christine Goepfert, Transportation For America Minnesota Organizer

Chairman Oberstar introduced the Surface Transportation Authorization Act (STAA) in June 2009. But, since then we’ve seen Congress put off passing a full multi-year transportation bill. The current law, SAFETEA-LU, was originally set to expire on September 30, 2009, but Congress has extended it four times. The last extension almost didn’t happen, resulting in a brief shutdown at USDOT. However, a 30-day extension was passed and SAFETEA-LU is now safe—but only until March 28, 2010.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to spur job growth, Congress is moving forward a $15 billion jobs bill. This bill provides a series of tax credits for job creation and other stimulus measures and would extend SAFETEA-LU through the end of this year. But, the jobs bill does not contain any additional funding for transportation investments. This is a missed opportunity.

If Congress or local DOT’swanted to create the most jobs, they would provide funding for public transportation projects. Two recent studies show the potential fortransit investments to create jobs.  The Center for Neighborhood Technology, Smart Growth America, and U.S. PIRG issued a report about ARRA (stimulus) investments showing that public transportation projects created nearly twice as many jobs as other infrastructure investments. A recent projection by the Economic Policy Institute showed that an investment of $35 billion in expanding transit and repairing roads, bridges and rail could create nearly a half million jobs. Please visit EPI’s web site to read more.

Given what is known about the job creation potential of public transit and road repair, it was discouraging to see that the Metropolitan Council/TAB’s highest priority for any future jobs bill funding is another major highway expansion project – a $175 million project to reconfigure the I-169/494 interchange and three at-grade intersections. The TAB recently added the project to the regional federal TIP document to put that project in line for funding.

While Congress is “missing the bus” with the jobs bill and continuing to extend an out-dated  transportation law, the rest of the world is moving forward. China is building a $500 billion rail network and Canada is building efficient urban transportation networks. Meanwhile, public transit systems across the country are being forced to slash service in the face of Congressional inaction. Here in the Twin Cities, the Metropolitan Council basically plugged a projected $62 million biennial operating deficit with one-time funding mechanisms,but that will have to be revisited by next year. Will we see another 25-cent fare increase like we did in the fall of 2008?

Hope may be on the way…Representative Oberstar’s calls for action have finally been heard. Negotiations in the Senate on the jobs bill resulted in Sen. Reid promising to bring the transportation bill to the floor this year. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Environment and Public Works (EPW)Committee, would be chiefly responsible for drafting the bill.Sen. Boxer has named her bill – MAP-21 – and indicated that it will borrow the framework of STAA. Sen. Boxer has also begun a series of hearings on the transportation bill, the first held on March 3, 2010, covering the topic “The Importance of Transportation Investments to the National Economy and Jobs.”Other topics to come include federal, state and local partnerships to accelerate transportation benefits; mobility, livability and congestion in urban and rural America; and transportation’s impact on the environment.

The window of opportunity to influence the Senate’s bill seems to be opening, so now is the time to reach out to Senator Klobuchar, who sits on the EPW committee,about the importance of a new transportation bill that would move America forward – with a focus on repair, more choices, and greater accountability.Visit T4 America’s web site for more information on the sort of policies we need in the next transportation bill. 

For information on how to make your voice heard on transportation issues at the federal level, or with other questions or comments, please contact Christine Goepfert, T4America Minnesota Field Organizer, at (612) 991-9497 or christine.goepfert@t4america.org

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