Thursday, June 18, 2009

House, Administration spar over transport funding renewal

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A potential dispute between the Obama Administration and House leaders could affect the timing of up to $450 billion in surface transportation funding sought for the next six fiscal years, beginning Oct. 1. SAFETEA-LU, which expires Sept. 30, provided $286.4 billion over a four-year period.

The administration seeks an 18-month extension of current surface transport funding, expressing doubts that a comprehensive six-year package can be achieved by the next fiscal year to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, expected to be depleted by August.

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But Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee (pictured at left), and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Calif.) argue that the House measure, unveiled Thursday, would expedite funds to states by simplifying regulatory procedures, while creating more accountability for how states spend their federal funds. DeFazio says the accountability would allow cities to mix and match road and transit projects, fostering modal coordination now lacking in federal transport policy.

House Republicans also seek to expedite the funding procedure. "Many important projects do not break ground for several years, tying up limited federal resources while project sponsors navigate the complicated maze that is the federal approval process," Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said in a written statement.

Oberstar said the Department of Transportation would reduce its oversight of 108 different categories for federal funding to four major funding formula programs. As for rail specifics, the bill would set aside $50 billion for high speed rail purposes and $99.8 billion for transit.