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President Obama wants passenger rail program on “equal footing” in transport legislation

(The following story by John D. Boyd appeared on The Journal of Commerce website on September 8, 2010.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Obama said he wants long-term transportation legislation to include a permanent infrastructure bank that can make investments outside regular state formulas, and to put his passenger rail program "on an equal footing" to guarantee its support.

Those were among the features that the White House said should be part of a long-term transportation policy, along with $50 billion for "up-front investment in our nation's infrastructure" while the other policies play out.

The president's plan would pair that initial funding with a broad, six-year strategy for transport infrastructure, to replace expiring legislation for federal spending on highways and other facilities. "If we are to enjoy the benefits that come from a world-class transportation system, Congress must enact a long-term reauthorization that expands and reforms our infrastructure investments and returns the transportation trust fund to solvency," said a White House briefing paper.

The administration outline drew praise from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., who said Obama's principles are in line with those the committee previously offered.

"I am very pleased that the president wants to build on the success of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act with further investment in our national transportation infrastructure," Oberstar said. "I am also pleased that the president shares the committee's objectives of restoring our surface and air transportation systems to a state of good repair, increasing energy efficiency, and relieving the road and rail congestion that is crippling our economy."

The president's strategy over six years would aim to rebuild 150,000 miles of roadways, build and maintain 4,000 miles of track for the intercity passenger rail initiative, and fix 150 miles of airport runways while deploying a more efficient generation of air traffic control technology.

But the White House said the future framework should include "meaningful reforms" in the way money is spent now. Those include putting the administration's high-speed passenger rail program an "equal footing" priority for transportation funds, using a permanent infrastructure bank to support significant construction projects and making projects compete for federal aid and meet performance measures to qualify.

The plan would also streamline federal spending by consolidating over 100 programs that were not identified, and expanding the administration's controversial focus on "livability" concerns such as cutting oil use and carbon emissions or funding more non-vehicle travel options.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

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