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In West Virginia, T&I Committee Kicks Off Field Hearings on Long-term Bill

Before crafting their $556 billion transportation proposal, Obama administration officials toured the country, holding a series of listening sessions to hear what people wanted in a long-term transportation bill. Now, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is doing the same thing — but don’t expect committee Republicans to come to the same conclusions as the administration.

Republican John Mica, left, and Democrat Nick Rahall hear testimony from West Virginia transportation officials. Photo: Register-Herald

Whether or not they are willing to back a large, ambitious, reform-packed bill, Republicans are hearing that action is needed urgently. That was the message at the first field hearing, held in West Virginia this Monday. Both GOP and Democratic members of the committee heard from officials representing the state DOT, a contractors association, two highway authorities and the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute (named for West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall, ranking member of the T&I committee and representative of the district where the hearing took place).

Rahall presided over the hearing, held in a small theater in Tamarack, which bills itself as a center for West Virginia artisans but could also be described as an overbuilt highway rest stop. Taylor Kuykendall, a reporter for the local Register-Herald, said the audience was sparse, as it was not an open town hall but rather a forum only for the committee’s invited guests. Kuykendall estimated there were about 20 people in attendance, and only four members of the committee were present – Rahall, Chair John Mica (R-FL), Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) and Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

Kuykendall summarized some highlights of the hearing in a report earlier this week:

[Paul Mattox Jr., Commissioner of Highways at the West Virginia Department of Transportation] supported progress with the “critical” highway authorization act. He also stressed the need for public transit.

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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.

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Schedule for Transpo Bill Listening Tour Announced

More committee news…

Field hearings don't have the pomp and circumstance of Washington events, but don't expect to testify unless you're invited. Image: ##http://www.timbishop.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=79&parentid=3&sectiontree=3&itemid=1343##Tim Bishop's office##

Field hearings don't have the pomp and circumstance of Washington events, but don't expect to testify unless you're invited. Image: Rep. Tim Bishop's office

Yesterday’s field hearing of the House Transportation Committee on high-speed rail in New York City wasn’t officially part of the series of field hearings on the reauthorization. The tentative schedule hits small towns, big cities, and suburbs:

  • February 14th – West Virginia (Ranking Democrat Nick Rahall’s home state)
  • February 17th – Philadelphia area (Republican committee freshmen Patrick Meehan and Lou Barletta are from the area, as is Democratic T&I member Tim Holden)
  • February 18th – Rochester, NY (freshman Republican Tom Reed’s district and not too far for some of Richard Hanna’s constituents)
  • February 19-20 – Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis, and suburbs of Chicago (within reach of four Republican members’ districts and one Democrat)
  • February 21-23 – Portland, OR; Vancouver, WA; Fresno and Southern California (reaching four Republican districts and two Democrat)

The hearings may be focused on specific topics, which haven’t been announced yet. Witnesses must be invited to speak.

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Rahall Responds, Says His Transpo Record Is About More Than Just Highways

Earlier this month, we reported that Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) was in the running for Ranking Member on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee in the House. We mentioned our alarm that his ideas about transportation seemed limited and road-centric – specifically, that his website’s issue page on Transportation mentioned only highways, water, and broadband. Got us wondering what he thought about bike-ped access and transit.

The Greenbrier River Trail, the longest rail-trail in West Virginia. Looks beautiful, but we're guessing it's not a high-traffic commuter corridor. Photo by ##http://www.wunderground.com/blog/HeyBoyHowdy/comment.html?entrynum=11##shbknits##

The Greenbrier River Trail, the longest rail-trail in West Virginia. Looks beautiful, but we're guessing it's not a high-traffic commuter corridor. Photo by shbknits

We were glad to see today that reporter Taylor Kuykendall from the local Register-Herald newspaper asked Rahall about those omissions.

Rahall said he understands those concerns, and admits they aren’t featured prominently on his website, but that doesn’t mean he ignores those issues.

“I don’t give them much play on my website, because while important, they don’t play as prominent a role in the way we move our coal, our goods and our people,” Rahall said. “We don’t benefit as much in West Virginia from all of those categories, but we do have some. Rails-to-trails, for example, and we have bikeways and scenic byways. We have several of those right here in southern West Virginia.”

Now, I like a scenic byway as much as the next lady, but it’s not quite the trailblazing reform that advocates were looking for.

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