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LaHood, Mica, Brown Talk Transit
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and Reps. John Mica (D-FL) and Corinne Brown (D-FL) addressed a packed audience March 15 at APTA’s Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. LaHood opened the session, saying “You have a lot of friends at DOT, and we consider you our partners in what we want to do in America. Thank you for all you’ve already done.”

He explained the important role of public transportation as part of a network of transportation options operating across the nation. “We have many priorities,” he noted.

"While our signature issue is high-speed and intercity rail, we can’t do it without support from transit. We are not going to be able to connect 80 percent of America with just high-speed rail. We want to continue the partnership with public transportation. We need to provide connectivity.”

He also emphasized the importance of transportation infrastructure as an investment in the future: “This program will take us to the next generation of transportation, doing it for the next generations of Americans—our kids and grandkids.”

LaHood also listed two other DOT priorities: legislation giving the department jurisdiction over transit safety and security, and a change in policy that would allow the use of some federal transit capital funding for operating purposes.

Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I), told conference participants that they need to spread the word about public transportation—and the importance of a new six-year authorization bill—to the “new kids on the block” elected in 2010. Regarding his own 59-member committee, he said, 20 of the 33 Republican members are in their first term: “I have a fourth of the freshman class on my committee.”

According to Mica, the “game plan” is to hold hearings through the spring, release the legislation in May, then get it to the president by the deadline of Sept. 30, 2011.

He also voiced his support for high-speed rail, specifically in the Northeast Corridor connecting Washington with Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. “Imagine, if you will, going down to [Washington’s] Union Station and being in New York City in an hour, or being in Philadelphia in 30 minutes,” he said. “Imagine the transit-oriented development that would take place around the Northeast Corridor, the jobs that would be created, the entire vision influencing the United States. I believe we can do it.”

Brown, ranking member of the T&I Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, called on Congress to support “a comprehensive transportation bill that includes transit.”

She continued: “As we move forward, we need to make sure we have the local, state, and federal governments as our partners. Our competition understands the importance of moving people, goods, and services. We need to get the word to the Hill: we need a comprehensive bill that includes rail—and sidewalks.”

In answer to an audience question, LaHood pointed out the importance of DOT’s partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Environmental Protection Agency as a job-creating mechanism. “By pooling our money, we’re creating green jobs and opportunities for housing and transportation,” he said. “By connecting transportation to larger national themes, we’ve made transportation transcend its mission and become part of the larger picture.”

He concluded: “If we’re going to carry on this vision, we cannot do it without you. Let’s work together. We will hopefully have a transportation authorization plan on the president’s desk by the August recess.”
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