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Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2011

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Chair, I rise in strong support of the amendment offered by the gentleman from Oregon, Mr. DEFAZIO, which makes $200 million in livable community grants provided by this Act contingent on an authorization by Congress.

While I support the vast majority of the bill before us today, and I thank the gentleman from Massachusetts, Mr. OLVER, for providing substantial and much-needed investment in our Federal transportation programs, I do have concerns with the impact aspects of this Act will have on surface transportation programs.

Unfortunately, certain aspects of H.R. 5850 would enable the Administration to continue to avoid engaging with Congress to enact comprehensive surface transportation authorization legislation.

H.R. 5850 includes some good initiatives in the areas of livable communities, distracted driving, and funding for transit operating expenses. These initiatives, however, should be considered in the context of a comprehensive surface transportation authorization bill.

For the past three years, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, led by Mr. DEFAZIO, has conducted a thorough review of the needs of the nation's surface transportation network. Throughout this process, it has become clear that there is a broad consensus on the need to fundamentally transform highway, highway safety, and public transportation programs to meet the needs of the 21st century surface transportation network. But changes to these programs must be considered as part of a holistic rewrite of the entire surface transportation program, not piecemeal in an annual appropriations bill.

I understand that the Administration has requested the Livable Communities Initiative be included in the fiscal year 2011 budget for the Department of Transportation. What I do not understand is why Congress should agree to this request, thereby allowing the Administration to obtain the policy changes it desires without ever having to do the hard work that will be required to enact the next surface transportation authorization bill.

In effect, H.R. 5850 would let the Administration ``eat its dessert first'' and then leave the table without ever getting to the meat and potatoes of what needs to be done to fix our nation's transportation systems.

Therefore, this amendment would prohibit the use of FHWA's formula funds under the fiscal year 2011 THUD Act from being used to carry out FHWA's livable communities initiative until legislation is enacted to authorize such a program.

Our objection is not to providing grant funding for livable communities, but rather to the attempt to provide this funding prior to Congressional authorization.

I am hopeful that the Administration will soon engage in a serious effort to enact surface transportation authorization legislation. Enactment of such legislation will be critical to moving forward on new initiatives such as those proposed by H.R. 5850 to develop the surface transportation system to meet the needs of the 21st century.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting Mr. DEFAZIO's amendment.

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Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Chair, I rise in strong opposition to the amendment offered by the gentleman from Iowa (Mr. LATHAM) which lowers or eliminates funding for many important transportation grants provided by this Act.

The amendment would lower the amount provided for transit Capital Investment Grants, known as New Starts, which fund much needed rail and bus rapid transit systems.

New Start grants create public transportation systems that transform our communities by improving the mobility of a region, reducing congestion on the roadways, decreasing our dependence on oil, and increasing accessibility to work, schools, hospitals, and home.

If Americans rode public transit at the rate of 10 percent of daily travel, the U.S. would reduce its dependence on imported oil by more than 40 percent--equivalent to all the oil we import from the Persian Gulf. This funding for new transit systems should be increased, rather than decreased, and I oppose this amendment.

Moreover the amendment would eliminate $400 million from the high-speed and intercity passenger rail investment program.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) (Public Law 110-432, Division B) created two new Federal-State matching grant programs to provide capital assistance to States and Amtrak for development of high-speed and intercity passenger rail. PRIIA also created a congestion grant program, which authorized $325 million over four years for grants to States for eliminating chokepoints on the freight rail network to help reduce congestion and facilitate ridership growth on intercity passenger rail.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) (Public Law 111-1) built upon the three programs created by Congress in the 2008 law, and provided $9.3 billion in capital grants for investment in high-speed and intercity passenger rail. The Department of Transportation is now in its second round of soliciting grant proposals. For the first round of grants, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) received 259 grant applications from 37 States and the District of Columbia requesting nearly $57 billion in funding--far exceeding the initial $8 billion available under the Recovery Act.

In total, 79 applications from 31 States were selected for funding. In fact, the gentleman's (Mr. LATHAM) home State of Iowa received funding from FRA to conduct Alternatives Analysis and an Environmental Assessment, and to finalize a service development plan for passenger rail service from Chicago, Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska.

In addition, Amtrak is using its Recovery Act grants to invest in much needed Americans with Disabilities Act improvements to make stations in Preston, Ft. Madison, Mt. Pleasant, Osceola, Burlington, and Ottumwa, Iowa, accessible to persons with disabilities.

I urge Members to oppose this amendment.

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