Rep. Jim Oberstar said goodbye today after 36 years in the House, during which he helped pioneer federal support for biking and walking. “I go in peace of mind and heart, but with sadness,” he said in his concession speech.
He said he wouldn’t change or take back any of his votes for transportation, especially improvements in his own district. He refused to apologize for the stimulus, saying the infrastructure it paid for will be there for a hundred years.
Meanwhile, John Mica, the top Republican on the Transportation Committee – and its presumptive next chair – said in a statement:
If selected by my peers to chair the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the next Congress, my primary focus will be improving employment and expanding economic opportunities, doing more with less, cutting red tape and removing impediments to creating jobs, speeding up the process by which infrastructure projects are approved, and freeing up any infrastructure funding that’s been sitting idle.
Among my top legislative priorities will be passing a long-term federal highways and transit reauthorization… I will also focus on major initiatives to find ways within the Committee’s jurisdiction to save taxpayer dollars. That includes better management and utilization of federal assets, including real property, and more efficient, cost effective passenger rail transportation, including a better directed high-speed rail program.
Some reformers saw visions of high speed rail go down the toilet with the flip in Congressional power. Mica seems to indicate otherwise. Certainly, he’ll be under pressure from his party – which reads yesterday’s victory as a mandate for smaller government – to cut spending. But Mica supported Oberstar’s $500 billion transportation bill, and he recognizes the benefits of transit. He’ll need solid backup from advocates — speaking with a fiscal-conservative message — to convince his colleagues that infrastructure investment makes economic sense.
It looks like he’s prepared to try.