WASHINGTON - The House Transportation Committee chairman is likely to soon introduce a multi-year funding bill that will propose major programmatic changes in the Transportation Department and create a new congestion-relief program with several bond components for 68 metropolitan areas, according to a handwritten outline recently presented to some key stakeholders.
The outline, scribbled by Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., "was given to select people - some members of Congress and others - personally by the chairman" but has not been provided to the press, said committee spokesman Jim Berard.
The bill that Oberstar plans to introduce within the next few weeks would replace SAFETEA-LU - the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users - the current surface transportation funding law that expires Sept. 30.
Berard said the chairman intends to get the bill moving by Memorial Day weekend. However, that would mean Oberstar would have to introduce the bill by next Friday when Congress begins a week-long recess.
"Things are still being put together, and there's a lot of moving parts here, so that may slip. But we're trying to get it done as early as possible," Berard said.
The outline echoed the chairman's announcement in February that he hopes to create a metropolitan mobility or access program that would enable major metro areas to put together congestion-relief projects and issue more bonds to finance them.
The program sketched out by Oberstar could benefit 68 major metropolitan areas, although he previously said about 30 metro areas would be included in the program and be given special bonding ability. Competition would be intense; there are nearly 400 metropolitan statistical areas in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The program could include provisions for tax-credit bonds, tax-exempt bonds, grant anticipation revenue or Garvee bonds, private-activity bonds, state infrastructure banks, tolling and congestion pricing, and a federal loan component, according to the outline.
The program "might have a formula element" for funding, Oberstar wrote.
The chairman's outline suggested the transportation bill could propose an intermodalism secretary or undersecretary to work with various stakeholders from rail, aviation, transit, highway, and other sectors. It could also establish an office of liveability and an office of expedited project delivery.
Also listed were four "major formula programs" that would replace some of the myriad programs and sub-programs that are currently administered within the Transportation Department's various agencies.
The programs would be critical asset preservation, highway safety improvement, surface transportation, and congestion mitigation and air quality improvement.
The chairman's shorthand indicated that highways and bridges could be held within the critical-asset preservation program, rural road safety and railroad crossings could be within highway safety improvement, and a population-based metro planning organization sub-allocation could be within surface transportation.
Smaller formula programs could cover recreational trails and ferry boats, and a new freight improvement formula program also could be created.
In keeping with one of Oberstar's trademarks of providing historical context, he also included a very brief timeline of national highway funding since the 1950s, before laying out his vision for "the future of transportation."