This past week saw lots of wrangling in Congress over the transportation stimulus bill. House Transpo Committee Chairmain James Oberstar had called for a 34/66 split between transit and highway spending, including $5 billion for Amtrak and intercity rail. Unfortunately, the proposal actually revealed by the House cuts back to the traditional 1 to 4 split, cutting intercity rail money to $1.1 billion, as opposed to the $30 billion for highways.
Environmental blog Grist did some muckraking, and obtained some interesting comments about where the directive to make this change came from:
Oberstar’s office says the cuts were the product of the House speaker’s office, the Senate majority leader, and the Obama transition team. “How those decisions were made, I don’t know,” Jim Berard, communications director for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Grist. “It’s disappointing that our recommendation was not accepted on the whole, but at the same time we got a good deal for transportation infrastructure and we want to keep the momentum going for this bill.”
Berard says that at this point it’s not likely transit advocates in Congress will make too big a deal out of the cuts. “We don’t want to get into a family squabble at this point. I think the imperative is to get a bill going and get it going fast, and get it enacted quickly,” he continued. “I think there’s a lot of arguments to be made for more funding in every category on there. So to slow the process down by lobbying for more money for one particular sector or another may not be productive.”
It’s not the end of the world. Some money is better than no money, and there’s surely more political squabbling to look forward to before we know what the final package will look like. And in 2009 we have opportunities like Kerry’s HSR bill and the 5-year transportation “highway bill” to look forward to.
It’s just that neglecting transportation options capable of reducing carbon emissions and foreign oil usage hardly seems like “change” to me.