With the House GOP transportation proposal in disarray, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday launched a White House effort to build momentum for a bipartisan Senate bill.
“Take the politics out of transportation,” LaHood said in addressing a group of state highway officials who will lobby on Capital Hill this week.
The House bill, presented with great fanfare a few weeks ago, has stalled in the face of bipartisan objection over transit funding and worries from fiscal conservatives about its $260 billion price tag.
While House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pushes an overhaul that might salvage the bill, Senate leadership will rush to move their bill ahead.
LaHood put the administration’s weight behind the Senate bill, which continues traditional dedicated funding for mass transit, funding which was cut out of the House bill.
“To hollow out the transit in a transportation bill makes no sense in America today,” LaHood told the winter meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
LaHood, who was a Republican House member for 14 years before joining the Obama administration, said the GOP plan to end transit funding from gas tax revenues would “emasculate” mass transit.
The Senate bill continues to devote a share of the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax to pay for transit.
Transportation funding has been stalled since the last major bill expired because the Highway Trust Fund no longer provides the revenue needed to fund the transportation system. The trust fund relies primarily on money from the federal gas tax, revenue that has declined as engine efficiency has improved.
Speaking with reporters after the address, LaHood said it is unlikely that Congress can approve a new multi-year transportation bill before current funding expires on March 31. He predicted a short-term funding extension would be necessary.
“I’ve heard a lot of great speeches from Republicans about putting people to work,” LaHood said. “Pass a comprehensive [transportation] bill, and pass the president’s budget and a lot of Americans will go to work pretty quickly.”
The American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that an investment of $1.7 trillion is needed between now and 2020 to rebuild roads, bridges, water lines, sewage systems and dams that
are reaching the ends of their planned life cycles. The Urban Institute puts the price tag at $2 trillion. A 2010 report by 80 experts led by former transportation secretaries Norman Y. Mineta and Samuel K. Skinner called for an annual investment of $262 billion.