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Congressional Leaders Address Transportation Issues

As President Trump’s $1 trillion proposal to invest in infrastructure awaits congressional discussion, Passenger Transport had the opportunity to pose several public transportation-related questions to two of the lawmakers who will be instrumental in those debates—Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the House Transportation and Infra­structure Committee, and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.They shared their thoughts in advance of APTA’s Legislative Conference, March 12-14. Their comments follow.

Passenger Transport: President Trump has called for a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure. While many details of this proposal have yet to take shape, do you think the topic has the potential for bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress?

Rep. Shuster: I am happy that infrastructure is back on the front burner of the policy debate. Whether we drive, fly or take public transit, every American comes in contact with our infrastructure on a daily basis. It’s what ties our communities together, unites us as a people and allows our economy to work. I am also encouraged that President Trump is committed to investing in improving our infrastructure.There is a general sense of optimism in Washington right now that something must be done to improve America’s infrastructure. President Trump has announced his broad outlines of a plan, but details still need to be worked out. I do believe there is an appetite to move on infrastructure as long as it is done the right way, predicated on fiscal responsibility.

From the [Transportation and Infrastructure] Committee’s perspective, I am focused on exploring what we need to do to invest in a 21st-century infrastructure for America across all modes. The T&I Committee has a demonstrated track record of taking on large, complex pieces of legislation such as the FAST Act and the Water Resources Development Act and guiding them through the legislative process by encouraging a collaborative effort that crosses party lines.

Crapo: Transportation infrastructure has long been a bipartisan issue at the Senate Banking Committee, and I intend to continue that tradition in working with Ranking Member [Sherrod] Brown [D-OH] and other committee members on future transportation initiatives.

It will be critically important for any future infrastructure investments to strike an appropriate balance between financing opportunities and funding to provide for both urban and rural needs.

A related question: Economists agree that infrastructure investments create jobs and strengthen the economy—also goals both parties share. How can Congress work on a bipartisan basis to leverage infrastructure investments to help achieve these two critical goals?

Shuster: Infrastructure investment is a proven tool for job creation and economic development. I believe bipartisan agreement can be reached in a larger infrastructure package if it is developed with an eye towards long-term economic growth.

We need to look beyond the immediate to address what our infrastructure needs will be in the next decade of the 21st century. How will innovations in mobility such as autonomous vehicles impact our infrastructure? What should we do to encourage public-private partnerships where appropriate? How can we streamline regulations to speed project delivery?

These are all questions that must be addressed, and I believe they can be debated on a bipartisan basis. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to have these conversations.

Crapo: The FAST Act included several key elements that advance the goal of job creation and strengthening the economy—a key priority for Congress this year.

We will continue to monitor the implementation of the program for expedited project delivery to ensure that projects with private investment and limited federal funds are able to move forward through a streamlined process, while the government maintains broad oversight responsibilities.

This program has the potential to put more people to work constructing infrastructure projects that will provide more transportation options for our nation’s workforce.

As the FAST Act enters year two of its five-year lifespan, what advice would you give the public transportation community to ensure that agencies and businesses can most effectively use the resources and tools built into the law?

Shuster: This is an important question that fits with our current committee activities. We are now engaged in overseeing the implementation of the FAST Act. Just as with the last Congress, the committee will hold a number of public hearings and roundtables to solicit stakeholder feedback. My advice is to keep the committee informed. We need to hear from stakeholders at every level to assist in oversight and help us ensure the FAST Act is being implemented properly.

Crapo: The FAST Act includes many innovative elements of which the public transportation community should take full advantage. It will be important to continue to explore ways that the public transportation agencies and businesses can utilize these tools as they continue to be implemented.

Agencies should consider any capital projects in their plans that may be good candidates for moving forward as a public-private partnership, utilizing the expedited project delivery pilot program. The public transportation community should think creatively about ways to partner with businesses that are mutually beneficial by continuing to explore joint development opportunities.

The FAST Act includes ways for agencies to explore new technologies, both through research and a carve-out for low- and no-emission buses in the competitive bus program. The bill includes grants for component testing facilities to explore the effects components have on low- and no-emission vehicles in order to help both the industry and agencies make wise choices for fleet acquisition.

Throughout reauthorization roundtables and hearings, Congress heard that the high initial capital costs of new bus technologies are an impediment to transportation agencies, so we included cooperative procurement agreements and leasing opportunities to make these technologies more affordable. As agencies look at upcoming procurements, I would encourage them to consider some of the new tools provided to them through the FAST Act.

These are just a few of the programs and elements of the FAST Act included based upon the input Congress received from the public transportation community.

What other ways can the federal government help transit organizations build on the momentum that a multi-year bill helps create?

Shuster: As the first long-term surface transportation law in a decade, the FAST Act provides the funding certainty and predictability that allows communities to make smart mobility investments. Now is the time for transit organizations to demonstrate how these investments will bring together communities and provide access to opportunities.

Crapo: Congress will continue to work closely with the administration to ensure that the public transportation agencies and the industry are able to fully utilize the changes made in the FAST Act. As the administration implements these new programs, it will be important for the agencies to subscribe to them so that, as Congress considers future authorizations, we will have an understanding of the effects these programs have.

Additionally, the Senate Banking Committee intends to host a series of roundtable discussions with industry and agencies exploring a variety of topics in order to maintain an ongoing dialogue throughout the length of this multi-year bill.

About Rep. Bill Shuster
Bill Shuster (R-PA) is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, one of the largest committees in Congress, with jurisdiction over all modes of transportation. He has served on the T&I Committee since he was first elected to the House in 2001. He previously served as the chairman of two of T&I’s subcommittees. Prior to coming to Congress, Shuster worked on his family’s farm, with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Corp., and Bandag Inc. He also owned and operated an automobile dealership. He is a native of Pennsylvania.
About Sen. Mike Crapo
Mike Crapo (R-ID) is the chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal policy concerning urban development, mass transit and economic policy, among many other financial areas. He has been a member of the committee since the beginning of his Senate service in 1999. Previously, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Idaho State Senate. Prior to his service in Congress, Crapo was a partner in the law firm of Holden, Kidwell, Hahn & Crapo. He is a native of Idaho.

Who’s Who for Both Committees
In addition to Chairmen Shuster and Crapo, both of these congressional committees include leaders and subcommittees that directly affect public transportation.

Here’s a list of each committee’s ­ranking members, vice chairmen and vice ranking member and subcommittee leadership:

House T&I Committee
Ranking Member: Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR)
Vice Chairman: Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN)
Vice Ranking Member: Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT)

Subcommittee on Highways and Transit
Chairman: Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO)
Ranking Member: Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)

Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials
Chairman: Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA)
Ranking Member: Rep. Michael E. Capuano (D-MA)

Senate Banking Committee

Ranking Member: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Subcommittee on Housing, ­Transportation and Community Development

Chairman: Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
Ranking Member: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
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