Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Federal Transit Administration

Senators Hear From Obama’s Transit Chief-in-Waiting

One of the Capitol's sad, secret truths is that members of Congress often skip committee hearings on issues of vital importance to their states -- and today's confirmation session with Peter Rogoff, the president's nominee to lead the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), was no exception.

Just three members of the Senate Banking Committee showed up to question Rogoff, a 22-year veteran of the Senate's transportation appropriations panel. But lawmakers from both parties demonstrated an acute awareness that the FTA needs to revamp the arduous process of funding mass transit projects.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) decried the lengthy delays that have plagued the FTA's New Starts program, which requires mass transit proposals to clear a number of bureaucratic hurdles before qualifying for federal aid. "Many desirable projects don't seem to make it into the mix," Reed said.

Rogoff strongly agreed, pointing to a recently released FTA report that found a $50 billion backlog of needed repairs at America's seven largest transit systems (Boston, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.).

"Some of these deferred maintenance issues quickly become safety issues," Rogoff warned. He urged the senators to strike a balance between funding new public transit projects -- for which "it's a lot easier to garner enthusiasm" -- and repairing the already broken systems in major cities.

Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), mourning this month's defeat of a proposed light rail line for Central Florida, broke from his party's conservative bloc by declaring that mass transit should be a central part of the solution to the nation's transit woes. He probed Rogoff on the growing popularity of public-private partnerships to fund transit projects, which has sparked heated debate in Washington.

The fundamental problem with relying on private financing, Rogoff observed, is that its inherent profit motive could prove incompatible with the operating subsidies that mass transit often needs in order to survive. Rogoff also ruled out any deals to sell off states' and cities' transit assets: "When you get into some pure privatizations, when transit assets are sold ... clearly, that's where we need to draw the line."

Rogoff is likely to clear the Banking panel within a week or so, with a vote by the full Senate to follow. As a former congressional staffer, he's expected to win quick confirmation.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Tuesday’s Headlines Are Running Hard

More political news: Today's top stories delve into Kamala Harris' record on climate change and Republicans' plans for the Trump administration if he returns to power.

July 23, 2024

Disabled NYer’s are Victims of Gov. Hochul’s Congestion Pricing Pause

So many New Yorkers can’t use the closest subway station to their homes because they don't have an elevator. And Gov. Hochul just halted funding for 23 new lifts.

July 23, 2024

State DOTs Could Fuel a Resurgence in Intercity Bus Travel

Private equity firms are killing off intercity bus companies. Will public agencies fill in the gaps?

July 23, 2024

GOP’s ‘Project 2025’ is ‘Based on a Lot of Ignorance’

What does Transportation for America's Beth Osborne think of the transportation portion of the Heritage Foundation's playbook for a Trump presidency?

July 23, 2024

What a Surprise! Hochul’s Congestion Pricing Pause Helps Rich Suburban Drivers

Gov. Hochul's "little guys" certainly have big wallets. Meanwhile, the rest of us suffer with declining subway service and buses that are slower than walking. Thanks, Kathy.

July 22, 2024
See all posts