CA Mayors Ask Sen. Barbara Boxer for a 21st Century Transpo System

Sixty-five elected officials representing a number of California cities are urging California Senator Barbara Boxer to push a new federal transportation bill that reforms spending and puts a focus on public transit, walking and biking, or “21st century needs.” Boxer, as chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, could play a key role in the long-term re-authorization of the federal surface transportation act.

Senator Boxer at the ceremony for LA's Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension. Image: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/metrolibraryarchive/##Metro Transportation Library and Archive##

Senator Boxer at the ceremony for LA's Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension. Image: Metro Transportation Library and Archive

“Your efforts are critical for a transportation bill that provides families and individuals with more efficient, affordable, safe, and environmentally sustainable transportation options that decrease our dependency on oil and create healthy communities where people can live, work, and play,” read a letter signed by 17 mayors, including San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Riverside Mayor Loveridge. Signers also included 48 supervisors and council members from cities across the state.

With Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) no longer taking the lead on transportation policy in the House, Senator Boxer’s actions in the next session will take on great meaning. Is she willing to provide the leadership needed to move transportation reform forward? With the climate bill dead, will she channel her energy toward reducing emissions through transportation, the nation’s second biggest source of carbon pollution?

Greenwire reported this month about Boxer’s declaration that a long-term transportation reauthorization would be aimed at “reducing congestion,” and that “cutting congestion is another way of cutting pollution.” She’s right, but does she intend to cut congestion in the short term by expanding highways or in the long term by improving transportation alternatives to take cars off the road?

The elected officials who wrote to the Senator this week clearly don’t think the road to the future is paved with asphalt.

“The nation’s transportation program has not been significantly updated since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s,” said Mayor Newsom. “With California and the nation facing new and different challenges in the 21st century, a modern approach is needed to ensure that transportation continues to fuel the economy of California and the nation. We need to put people back to work connecting our cities with high-speed rail, efficient and affordable public transportation systems, and building clean freight systems and safe places to walk and bicycle.”

Boxer, who was recently elected to her third term as California’s U.S. Senator, did not respond to a request for comment.

The incoming chair of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. John Mica (R-FL) has said he plans to introduce a new six-year transportation bill in the spring, though there is significant doubt about the likelihood of a six-year bill given the inadequacy of current sources of financing. Earlier this month, the House passed a temporary extension that will expire next October.