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Oberstar transportation bill tops $500 billion

A new six-year $500 billion federal transportation bill creates or sustains 6 million jobs, says chief author U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District.

Oberstar, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, unveiled Thursday the "blueprint for investment and reform" for the new six-year federal appropriations bill for highways, bridges, rail and transit Surface Transportation Authorization Act.

The bill spends $450 billion over six years, a 38 percent increase over the current $426 billion multi-year surface transportation legislation. It also provides an additional $50 billion to develop 11 authorized high-speed rail corridors linking major metropolitan regions.

Once link would be between Minneapolis and Chicago.

While Oberstar plans to present the bill next week for mark-up in the House, the Obama administration wants the northeast Minnesota Democrat to put the brakes on the bill -- delaying new authorization for 18 months.

"Delay is unacceptable," Oberstar said Thursday in Washington, D.C., where he held a news conference on the bill. "Delay casts uncertainty on the program. If we delay the new authorization, states will hold back on new projects, and that will cost jobs. We are not in the business of delay. It is time to move ahead."

He estimates the $500 billion investment will create or sustain 6 million family-wage jobs.

"This is no time to sidetrack the only bill coming before Congress that will create millions of jobs," added Rep. John Mica of Florida, ranking Republican on the House committee who joined Oberstar in the news conference.

"I am prepared to move forward in a bipartisan effort to restore our nation's crumbling infrastructure and put people to work with the bill we have agreed to introduce," Mica said.

The committee's blueprint calls $450 billion "the minimum amount needed to stop the decline in our surface transportation system, begin to make improvements, and restore and enhance the nation's mobility and economic productivity."

It provides:

- Doubling the investment in highway and motor carrier safety to $12.6 billion.

- $337.4 billion for highway construction investment, including at least $100 billion for capital asset investment to being to restore the National Highway System.

- $87.6 billion from the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund and $12.2 billion from the General Fund for public transit investment to restore the nation's public transit systems to a state of good repair, and access and transportation choices to all Americans from large to small cities.

- $50 billion for metropolitan mobility and access to unlock congestion that chokes major metro areas. Also, $25 billion will enhance movement of freight and goods.

The union that supplies highway construction workers praised Oberstar's blueprint "that will move the nation's transportation infrastructure into the 21st century."

Glen Johnson, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 business manager in Minneapolis, said the plan "will create jobs today and strengthen our economy to compete in the global marketplace of tomorrow."

The federal economic stimulus package, funding "shovel ready" highway and bridge projects, helped put many 49ers back to work, Johnson said.

"The stimulus is only a short-term fix," he said. "We need to do more than prevent massive job losses in the construction industry. We need to create new jobs with an eye toward the future."

President Barack Obama seeks the delay in considering transportation funding to clear the decks for major health care reform legislation.

"At Local 49, we understand that health care reform is a high priority issue in Washington and its negative effect on our economy," Johnson said. "We also understand that charting a new course on energy policy is important to the future of America. However, we cannot delay in re-authorizing our nation's transportation bill which will put people back to work and growing our economy."

The bill would also consolidate or terminate 75 federal transportation programs. It also consolidates the majority of highway funding in four core formula categories designed to bring highway and bridge systems to a state of good repair, to improve highway safety, to develop new and improved capacity, and to reduce congestion and greenhouse gases.

It similarly focuses transit funding. It creates a National Transportation Strategic Plan, based on long-range highway, transit and rail plans developed by states and metro regions, to develop intermodal connectivity of the nation's transportation system.

It would reform the U.S. Department of Transportation to require intermodal planning and decision making.

Oberstar would also make much of what is funded on the bill performance-based.

"The quality of our transportation system is deteriorating," the Oberstar blueprint states. "Almost 61,000 miles of all lane miles on the National Highway System are in poor or fair condition. More than 152,000 bridges --one of every four bridges in the United States - are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete."

The blueprint "provides a bold new vision, greater accountability, a forward-thinking approach and the investments necessary to ensure that Americans have a surface transportation system to meet their needs in the 21st century," the report states.