Friday, March 25, 2011

Congressional Listening Session Tour on Transportation Comes to an End; Drafting of the New T Bill to Begin in April

Chair Mica and Reps Meehan and Shuster
Chairman John Mica (R-FL) wrapped up his Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee's nationwide tour of a dozen Congressional Districts in King of Prussia, PA today by listening to selected speakers from around the Greater Philadelphia region.  Chairman Mica was joined by host Congressman Pat Meehan (PA-07) and Bill Shuster (PA-09) on the panel. 

Chairman Mica, who started the week in Afghanistan and Europe and the day in Scranton PA, opened the session by stating that he wants to the next federal transportation bill to make proper choices about building infrastructure and nation's economy.  He also said that he was done with extensions and was going to start drafting a bill in April.  Moments of opportunity, identifying where red tape could be cut, and adding in a rail component were items that the Chairman wants in his bill.

Overall, the theme of the session was "how to do more with less."  It was mentioned over a dozen times throughout the two hours by Members of Congress and the speakers. Chairman Mica stated unequivocally that the gas tax was not going to get raised, explaining, "it's not just my position, it's just not going to happen in the reality in which I live."  He stated that the goal was to find ways to raise revenue without raising taxes.  But, to start, he asked the speakers directly, "what do you want changed?"

P3s, or public private partnerships, were the hot topic.  State Senator John Rafferty (44th District) is chair of the Transportation Committee and spoke about his legislation to create more of these partnerships to raise revenue for transportation projects.  Senator Rafferty said that his committee had concluded that states need more flexibility from the feds to toll.  He was quick to say that the state needed $20-60 Billion to upkeep the existing transportation system, but that P3s could help supplement. 

Cecile Charlton Delaware County Transportation Management Association and Rob Henry of Greater Valley Forge TMA  spoke about how they already do more with less and work hard to promote all modes of transportation, especially SEPTA, the region's transit agency.  Given the growth of jobs and housing in the counties, having a strong transit system is critical.  Ms. Charlton urged the committee to look at public transit as an important piece of the new bill.  Mr. Henry echoed Ms. Charlton by saying how they strive to be multi modal, promote cycling and encouraged employers be more involved and integrated in the transportation discussion. Charlton and Henry deserve a shout-out for being the most multi-modal oriented in their remarks among all of the speakers.

Barry Seymour of Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission made three points: that 1) regional planning works, 2) the biggest constraint is funding; only 2/3 is available to meet basic needs and 3) state and localities need more ways to raise funds to supplement federal funding.  "Our challenge is to maintain what we have."  He also said that not only was Valley Forge the first home of the nation, it was home to the country's first traffic jam.

Bob Latham of the Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition asked Chairman Mica to set a national vision for transportation in the context of no gas tax.  He said that there is a need to marry transportation policy with the nation's energy policy of becoming less dependent on foreign oil. 

Other speakers spoke about how technology could help improve best practices and reduce project delivery times; how more metrics are needed and how P3s would work, but that government funding is still needed.

Mr. Meehan asked the speakers about what exactly governors and mayors need to make public private partnerships work.  Senator Rafferty asked that for more flexibility to toll; for the Feds "to loosen the leash." 
Senator Rafferty then expounded his support for decking the "Schuylkill" Expressway (I-76) and that many would pay a $5 toll to get "quickly" into Center City Philadelphia.   Mica's response was that he had a problem with tolling existing roadways, "then we no longer have free highways."  He supported tolling for new expansions instead.

Rob Henry was asked how would p3s work on a smaller scale? His answer: its done already; Business Improvement Districtss; shuttle systems; extending High Speed Rail to further reaches of Philadelphia suburbs. 

Breen Goodwin of the BCGP spoke up for TE and SRTS

Chairman Mica took public comments for a few minutes before closing the session. Breen Goodwin and myself of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia made the points that bicycling and walking funding needed to be part of the federal transportation discussion; that it was only 1.2% of the federal transportation budget and shouldn't be cut, and that federal transportation dollars spent on biking and walking is cost effective and leverages other state and private dollars.   Go to the @bcgp twitter account to see the tweets made by John Boyle during the session. #T&Isession

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia organized supporters to attend the session and supplied them with bike and ped pins. Over a dozen in the room wore them.  Mr. Meehan gladly accepted a bike pin at the beginning and wore it throughout the session.  He remarked that he recalled Congressman Blumenaur wearing one regularly.  Mr. Meehan and his office  has met three times with the Bicycle Coalition in the past several weeks to discuss TE and SRTS and about a conceptual multi-use trail through his district that would link up Valley Forge Historic Park to the John Heinz Refuge. His willingness to listen and talk about the importance of trails to link together local communities is encouraging and we welcome his support as the transportation bill takes form.

The record for this meeting will stay open for 10 days and both Chairman Mica and Congressman Meehan and Shuster invited submissions of written ideas for what should be included in the transportation bill.  Seems like an opportunity not to be wasted.