Oberstar predicts FTA guidelines to be rewritten if Democrats win White House

U.S. House Transportation Chairman Jim Oberstar, D-Chishom, indicated
Federal Transit Administration guidelines for judging transit project
feasibility would be rewritten if the Democrats win the White House.

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

U.S. House Transportation Chairman Jim Oberstar, D-Chishom, indicated Federal Transit Administration guidelines for judging transit project feasibility would be rewritten if the Democrats win the White House.

The Bush Administration officials, Oberstar opined, had subverted federal law pertaining to transit projects by zeroing in on miles-driven saved in judging project viability while omitting other factors such as potential economic development.

Oberstar, whose visit to the Capitol on Friday (Feb. 28) was marked by pointed commentary directed at Gov. Tim Pawlenty, answered questions during a joint House/Senate transportation hearing.

oberstarolseen.jpgHis prediction of rewriting federal transit law was elicited by Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, who expressed worry that current federal cost-effectiveness criteria would result in a Central Corridor line barren of stations and potentially hazardous.

Eighth District Congressman Jim Oberstar, D-Chisholm, appeared at the Capitol on Friday (Feb. 28), testifying before a joint House/Senate transportation committee hearing. Sen Rick Olseen, DFL-Harris, joined the congressman at a press conference. (Photo by T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter)

“And we’re going to hate that line and never build another one,” warned Carslon.

Changed federal cost-effective guidelines was a big factor in cutting the length of the Northstar Commuter Rail line by half.

End of their rope

But Oberstar opined that Bush Administration officials had reached the end of their rope.

The quarter-cent metro sales tax provision in the bill will make the state more competitive in vying with other states for federal transit dollars.

He praised lawmakers for the override.

“Had the Legislature not acted, the governor’s veto would have marked the beginning of a long, dark decline into the abyss of lost productivity, reduced mobility, increased costs of logistics, and diminished competitiveness for Minnesota’s economy,” said Oberstar.

He urged Pawlenty to emerge from his “Malthusian cave” and ensure that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) has the funding to leverage federal dollars.

“It sounds to me like he’s conducting a latter-day Salem witch hunt,” Oberstar said of the Pawlenty’s contention the transportation finance bill was excessive in today’s strained economy.

Not effective

The congressman also opined that former Mn/DOT Commissioner Lt.Gov. Carol Molnau could not be effective holding two positions at once.

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung indicated the administration had nothing to say about Oberstar’s comments.

“We’re not going to respond to Congressman Oberstar’s latest outburst in kind. We would hope that after more than four decades in Washington, he would be more inclined to statesmanlike behavior than these kinds of partisan attacks,” said McClung in an e-mail.

“We’d respectfully ask Congressman Oberstar about his failure to bring his own gas tax increase plan to a vote in the committee he chairs. Accordingly, his lectures on leadership ring hollow,” he said.

On other transportation issues, Oberstar indicated that his committee would be holding “vigorous” hearings on the proposed Delta/Northwest airlines merger – possibly as many as three hearings, he explained.

He senses the merger is currently on-hold.

Oberstar also indicated that a large federal gas tax increase could be proposed in future months.

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