When Will Oberstar’s Transportation Bill Drop? Place Your Bets Now

At first it was slated to emerge by June 1. Then its release was said to slip to this week. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) now plans to release his version of the six-year federal transportation bill by the end of the month, with a full House vote unlikely to come before Congress leaves for its annual August recess.

oberstar.jpgHouse transportation chief Jim Oberstar (D-MN) is pushing for a full vote on his bill before September 30. (Photo: Jonathan Maus)

The uncertainty over Oberstar’s timeframe is making for quite the guessing game among transportation advocates, lawmakers and journalists. The latest bit of insider chatter, mentioned by van-pool lobbyist Chris Simmons on Twitter, has Oberstar releasing a "white paper" — or briefing paper, in D.C. parlance — on his plans later this month before the complete federal bill emerges sometime in July.

Simmons has even suggested a betting line on when the House bill would finally see the light of day.

Oberstar spokesman Jim Berard confirmed to Streetsblog that the chairman’s current goal remains to release his bill by the final week of June, although the constantly shifting congressional schedule ensures that nothing is set in stone.

Perhaps the most crucial question, then, is whether the timing of Oberstar’s bill will have any effect on the Senate’s willingness to take up the critical issue of transportation before the 2005 federal bill expires on September 30.

At yesterday’s Bipartisan Policy Center transportation forum, few if any of the lawmakers and policy experts on hand believed the Senate could take up and pass its federal bill by the October deadline. Former GOP Sen. Slade Gorton (WA) quipped that "to believe the entire Congress is going to finish this transportation bill by September 30 .. is truly a triumph of hope over experience," while current Democratic Sen. Mark Warner (VA) was equally skeptical about his chamber’s chances.

Warner, who sits on both committees with major jurisdiction over the Senate’s transportation bill — Banking and Environment and Public Works — said only that the latter panel is "very, very focused on climate change first … I’m not sure I can give you an exact time."

The slowdown of progress on the federal reauthorization bill could be a blessing in disguise for transit and environmental advocates who want to see a wholesale re-examination of the irrational structure that has long governed Washington transportation policy.

But it also underscores the need to find a sustainable new revenue source for transportation funding, one that can stave off the looming bankruptcy of the highway trust fund while guaranteeing that money will be available to pursue much-needed reforms on the federal level.

Are any readers prepared to take Simmons’ challenge and place a bet on the House bill’s release date? I’ll put the over-under at June 30…

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