Obama Administration Working on Its Own Six-Year Transportation Bill

The annual powwow of thousands of transportation workers, planners, and wonks that’s known as the Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference kicked off in the capital yesterday with a candid admission from some senior U.S. DOT officials: reorienting American transport planning to accommodate the overlap with housing and environmental sustainability is proving pretty difficult.

Trans_Secretary_Ray_LaHood_Discusses_Cash_Jx_HxR08cPwl.jpgU.S. DOT chief Ray LaHood’s team is working on a six-year transport proposal of its own. (Photo: Getty)

The subscription-only ClimateWire news service caught remarks from Beth Osborne, the Obama team’s deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy, who said the administration’s livability work has been slowed by laws that impede federal participation in local planning:

"A lot of it [is] the disjointed federal programs that
often discourage and certainly do not incentivize the coordination of
housing policy and transportation policy, water infrastructure policy,
economic development policy," she said.

"In fact, within the
transportation program, we really disincentivize this," she said. A
state that improves traffic flow and transit use will burn less
gasoline, meaning it will lose revenue from its main source of
transport funding — the gas tax. "That state that creates greater
efficiency can see their own budget get slashed as a reward."

This tension between the desire to cut transportation emissions and the nation’s reliance on the gas tax for the majority of its transport funding is a familiar one for Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and other urban members of Congress.

Nadler lamented back in June that many states were insisting on a guaranteed rate of return from their gas-tax revenue based on a nonsensical "equity argument" that says: "The more energy-efficient you are, the less gas you use, the less [federal] funding you should get."

One key ingredient in the Obama administration’s effort to carve out a stronger federal role in local planning, of course, is the still-stalled six-year federal transportation bill. And Osborne — seemingly aware of the value of that legislation in removing longstanding obstacles to coordination — told the TRB meeting that "Capitol Hill has asked DOT to craft its own version of a transportation reauthorization bill," according to ClimateWire.

A legislative outline from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who spent much of 2009 urging lawmakers to put off discussion of the next six-year bill until 2011, would be an undeniable boost to Democrats who have long urged the administration to play a more active part in solving the puzzle of long-term financing.

But the political hurdles to enacting a new federal transport bill this year remain steep, as ITS America President Scott Belcher remarked in one of today’s TRB conference sessions.

"Everybody wants to get past the elections" before passing new long-term legislation," Belcher said, "and they want to get past the election because they don’t want to raise taxes."

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Portland’s Transport Research Guru Headed to Obama Administration

|
The U.S. DOT is expected to announce today that it has tapped Robert Bertini, a Portland State University professor who headed Oregon’s state-wide transport research effort, as the No. 2 at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration — the government’s home for stats on all things transportation. Robert Bertini (Photo: Oregonian) Bertini’s hiring is an […]

Is the ‘Road Gang’ Losing Power in Washington?

|
That is the thesis posited in a new investigation from the Center for Public Integrity, which sent a reporter to sprawl-saturated South Florida to examine how much of a return the transportation construction industry is getting on its multi-million-dollar contributions to congressional campaigns. In a time of sluggish economic recovery, when federal dollars can make […]

‘This Needs Attention’: Senators Seek Shot in the Arm on Transportation

|
Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and fellow lawmakers today pressed the Obama administration to take a more active role in ending the current political stalemate over federal transportation funding, but the sense of urgency they sought emerged only intermittently during an 80-minute session on infrastructure. Deputy U.S. Transportation Secretary John Porcari (Photo: DayLife.com) […]

NYC’s Next Transportation Commissioner Is Polly Trottenberg

|
Bill de Blasio has appointed U.S. DOT Under Secretary for Policy Polly Trottenberg to lead the New York City Department of Transportation. Trottenberg is a veteran federal policy maker, whose resume includes stints working for New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the 1998 federal transportation bill and for Senator Chuck Schumer. At the Obama […]

Cities for Cycling Launches With Blumenauer, Sadik-Khan, Byrne

|
Addressing a packed house in Washington last night, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, posed a Zen-like ‘universalist cyclist question’. (Photo: Cities for Cycling) "How many people, right now," he asked, "are stuck in traffic on their way to ride a stationary bike in a health club?" The quip got a […]