Cummings: Congress can, and must, act now on transportation funding bill

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Despite President Obama’s call for an 18-month extension of current federal transportation funding programs that are due to expire this fall, Maryland Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, who sits on a key House transportation committee, says he is convinced that Congress can enact revamped transportation legislation this year.

“For so long, we have put off our infrastructure needs,” Cummings told participants at the June 25 Greater Baltimore Committee 2009 Regional Transportation Summit. “We are, frankly, impeding our own mobility and needlessly restraining our economic growth.”

Regardless of how new transportation funding processes are changed, Cummings said he will continue to strongly support funding for Baltimore’s Red Line.

Cummings will also support other Baltimore-region priorities including the planning and construction of the Green Line metro extension, upgrading rail freight resources to achieve double-tracking capacity from mid-Atlantic ports to the Midwest, and modernizing 100-year-old Baltimore tunnels that are now a bottleneck for Amtrak’s east coast service, he said.

The GBC considers strengthening transportation funding to be a top economic development priority for both Maryland and the nation, said GBC President and CEO Donald C. Fry.

“The United States is at a pivot point,” Fry told more that 120 business executives and transportation advocates who attended the summit. “Is transportation getting lost in so many other priorities?”

Cummings outlined the draft legislation that is now before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that would create a new $500 billion national transportation funding program. Key elements include:

• Allocating, over six years, $337 billion to highways, $87 billion to mass transit, $50 billion to high-speed rail, and $13 billion for safety initiatives
• Creating a “Critical Asset Investment Program” to bring bridge and highway system maintenance up to standards
• Creating an “Office of Expedited Project Delivery,” that would shorten the time it takes for a transportation project to go through the federal funding process
• Provisions for dedicated funding to help the large metropolitan regions address congestion. Among other things, the program would require regions to develop specific plans to address congestion
• Establishing a National Infrastructure Bank to provide grants, loans, guarantees, lines of credit, and other financial tools to help metropolitan regions implement their plans
• Creating an “Office of Intermodalism” charged with developing and implementing a national transportation strategic plan

John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and Thomas Murphy, former Pittsburgh mayor and now a resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, also spoke at the GBC Transportation Summit. Both called for substantially strengthening both the nation’s transportation funding and strategy.

“At some point, we’re going to have to grow up and raise taxes” to address infrastructure issues, said Horsley. “Somewhere out there soon, Congress is going to have to face the fact that you can’t borrow yourself out of a recession.”

“We haven’t made significant investment in our infrastructure in a lot of years,” Murphy said, pointing out that in the 1950s President Dwight D. Eisenhower insisted on a gas tax to pay for the interstate highways system. “That was leadership. Since that time we’ve never really had a transportation infrastructure strategy.”

Executive summary
of the draft transportation legislation before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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