New House Transportation Chairman Keeps Open Mind on Revenue, Rail

Congressman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), who was confirmed this week as the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sent several signals that he may offer a more cooperative, less partisan model of leadership for the committee than his predecessor, Florida Rep. John Mica.

Shuster told reporters yesterday that Congress needed to consider an increase in the gas tax, a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, tolling, and public-private-partnerships in order to fund transportation.  He seemed particularly interested in a VMT tax, saying it seemed to be “the only way to stop the decline” in federal transportation revenue over the long term.

The federal gas tax was last increased in 1993 and has not kept up with levels of spending on transportation. In recent years the Highway Trust Fund (which funds both roads and transit) has remained solvent only because of transfers of general tax revenue.

Shuster has been a staunch supporter of privatizing Amtrak, but indicated yesterday that he hoped to find compromise. As The Hill reports:

“I believe there’s a need for passenger rail in this country, especially in these… densely populated corridors around the country,” Shuster said.

“The debate in Congress over the last 40 years since Amtrak was created…a lot of Republicans say ‘it’s a disaster, sell it off, let the private sector do it’,” he  continued. “My Democratic colleagues say ‘there is no passenger rail system in the world that is not subsidized. They’re correct in saying that, but I think there’s somewhere in the middle we can come together on this and that’s where you have to find the reforms.”

The federal legislation which sets policy and funding levels for Amtrak and rail programs, PRIIA (the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act), expires next year and a new rail bill will be high on a long to-do list for transportation policymakers in Washington.

National transportation advocates have been cautiously optimistic about Shuster. David Goldberg of Transportation for America called him “a thoughtful person who has genuine interest and expertise in the issues.” But advocates are also worried about what they see as the new chairman’s hostility to bike and pedestrian funding.

2 Comments on "New House Transportation Chairman Keeps Open Mind on Revenue, Rail"

  1. Mary Drennon | November 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm |

    Most of these tax increases would hit low-income people very hard. They tend to drive older cars with more mileage, may have to commute further for a job, and can barely afford to pay for gas now, as it is. Why not consider a tax for all those companies clogging the highways with big trucks? The traffic since NAFTA is incredible, and trucks look like they take up at least half of it. Although I haven’t researched it, in our area (the I-35 corridor) there’s been a big increase in wrecks involving 18-wheelers, many with trucks that aren’t compliant with current safety laws.

  2. Charles Roberts | December 6, 2012 at 11:12 pm |

    This country needs to look at High Speed rail, using the already existing interstate right of ways. Combining the upgrading of the 50+ year old interstate system with new High Speed rail construction would generate 20+ years of new construction projects in every state of this country.
    Removing passenger service from the present rail system would also get more trucks off the road as the freight service schedules will no longer be impacted by passenger rail.

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