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Transportation Bill Unveiled Tomorrow. Here's What to Expect.

Are we poised to dramatically revamp America's problematic transportation policy? Because of a very well-organized highway lobby, the massive $400 billion bills have tended to favor giant construction projects over public transit and other human-sized innovations.

Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), who oversees transportation issues in the House, seems to have another approach in mind. Oberstar will release a 100-page outline of the new policy in Washington tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. In the meantime, there are clues to his thinking in a two-page handwritten outline he apparently scribbled out recently while flying to College Station, Texas.

Oberstar's plan will strive for what the outline calls "transit equity," changing the formula by which the federal government pays 80 percent of highway projects but only 50 percent of transit ones. The 108 Department of Transportation programs would be consolidated into four major areas focused on reducing congestion, improving air quality, increasing highway safety and a flexible pot of money under the Surface Transportation Program (STP) heading.

The emphasis seems to be on accountability, requiring better data and planning, more performance-based assessments and more equity for transit. There's also a metropolitan mobility program that will allocate money to regions, not just to states. And states would get more self-determination to decide which projects to fund. That would undoubtedly end up funneling money to transit.

James Corless, director of Transportation for America, likes what he sees so far, though the details on public transit aren't yet clear. T 4 America wants to see some strong long-term objectives, including a 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from transportation over 20 years, and zero citizen exposure to harmful transport-related air pollution chemicals.

"There ought to be a strong link between the provisions of the Waxman-Markey climate bill and the transportation bill," Corless said. "Historically, they've been separate, but we're trying to make the connection."

Obviously, Congressional special interests will have their knives out. "There are a lot of entrenched interests," Corless said. And how.

Photo: Flickr/Washington State Department of Transportation

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