Congressman Jim Oberstar says 2009 will be a big year for the nation’s roads, bridges and other transportation systems. As chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Oberstar is planning to introduce and pass what he is calling "the largest transportation investment package since the creation of the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s."
"The need is certainly there; we have been shortchanging our roads and bridges for decades," said Oberstar. "We have been lax with our maintenance, and we have failed to upgrade our roads and bridges at a speed that has kept pace with the growth of our economy. Congestion on our roads is costing $78 billion a year in wasted time and fuel alone."
Today (January 6), members of Congress took their oath of office and officially started the 111th Congress. "We are in a new political climate," said Oberstar. "The American people sent us a clear message that they want to see their leaders take bold action to get our economy back on track and invest in our nation’s future; a robust investment in transportation infrastructure accomplishes both of those goals."
Create 2.4 Million Jobs
In the short term, Congress is expected to pass economic recovery legislation that will begin to address serious backlogs in highway and bridge construction, investment in transit, passenger rail, and other public works projects. Oberstar is recommending that the transportation portion of the bill be aimed at projects that are ready for work to begin, but lack the funding. "We want to put people to work within 120 days of the passage of this bill," said Oberstar. "To be effective, this bill needs to be transparent and accountable to the taxpayer, and the economic recovery package needs to be earmark-proof, with no specially-designated projects."
Oberstar recommends spending $85 billion in the transportation and public works investment part of the economic recovery bill. "We could create 2.4 million jobs and $439 billion in economic activity. These are American jobs that will put people to work right here; these jobs can’t be outsourced and they will pay a living wage with benefits," said Oberstar.
Oberstar will also go to work on a long-term bill to invest in the nation’s surface transportation needs over the next six years. "This will be a transformational transportation bill and will address the needs of the economy of the 21st century. With a new vision and approach to transportation, we will do more than just invest in highways and bridges; we will invest in new modes of transportation to move people and products. Everything from shipping in the Great Lakes to high-speed rail will be on the table," said Oberstar.