Transpo Committee Adds Southern Locations to Field Hearing Schedule

The T&I Committee has fleshed out the schedule of its nationwide tour to solicit input on transportation issues. The tour is an opportunity for lawmakers to hear what communities around the country would like to see in a new transportation authorization bill.

Since we published the first, tentative schedule last week, the committee has added several locations in the South: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and the Memphis metropolitan area.

When you google "Beckley, WV transit" this is what you get. Photo: Automobile Magazine

Observers note that the addition of Oklahoma could be an attempt to get the attention of Senator James Inhofe, ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and that Tennessee is the home state of new Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chair John Duncan, though he’s from the other side of the state. Committee Democrat Steve Cohen is from Memphis, where the hearing will be. Freshman Republican Rick Crawford will play host to the Jonesboro hearing.

Meanwhile, the committee confirms that the Los Angeles hearing will be a joint House and Senate hearing, with Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the EPW Committee, co-chairing the session with Rep. John Mica.

The committee also added a date in Scranton, Pennsylvania (home of Vice President Joe Biden and Dunder Mifflin). Their stop in West Virginia now includes two different locations, 60 miles apart.

“It’s very encouraging that the hearings are happening in a lot of different kinds of metro areas,” said David Goldberg, communications director of Transportation for America – though he did note that the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington location is now firmly listed as just Vancouver.

“I thought they’d carefully chosen to go to both places,” Goldberg said, “to go to the region people so often cite as one that is being very thoughtful about integrating the various modes of transportation, and their planning and development aspirations – and then Vancouver, which in many ways is emblematic of the transportation challenges this country faces. Vancouver is a place that exists because of sprawl out from Portland, and that grew up very quickly in an auto-dependent way.”

Still, he’s heartened that in the wide variety of locations, from the Chicago area to Philadelphia to Jonesboro, members will hear from communities that “people really do feel like the big era of highway building is done.”

Committee staff denied a rumor going around that all freshman members were required to attend the field hearings, though spokesperson Justin Harclerode said several committee freshmen were eager to host events in their own districts.

Harclerode said lawmakers from the various hearing locations are working on the meeting logistics as well as the roster of invited speakers. After all, this is no open town hall – only community members invited to speak will be allowed to do so.

Advocates are anxiously awaiting information about who is invited to speak (and in some cases, watching their own inboxes for an invitation). “Too often field hearings have been used as cover to rationalize what legislators already wanted to do,” said T4A’s Goldberg. But he’s trying not to be cynical. “We’re optimistic that this will be a genuine, openhearted listening exercise and it will help inform a smarter bill.”