Last week was busy for Members of the Surface Transportation Revenue and Study Commission. We had spent twenty-two months of hard work, with hearings around the country, long deliberations in Washington for at least two days or more each month. We held a two-hour press conference, had a presentation with questions and answers before the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and then Thursday hours and hours of testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-MN).
Contrary to what you might have heard in your local media, our report was well received by Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. Chairman Oberstar is not only extremely gracious but probably is the most knowledgeable Member on transportation issues. He has been on the appropriate committee into his fourth decade of Congressional service. Usually when you testify before Congress the Chairman of the Committee has aides whispering in his ear. He makes some prepared remarks and you are positive that he has little or no idea what is being discussed.
Not with Oberstar. He not only knows the issues but in most cases when it comes to urban transit he has been there. He has seen the systems. He understands what needs to be done. I was astonished that he suggested that our work was one of the important milestones in transportation history in the United States.
Some of the media is hung up on one of the alternatives recommended for funding the enormous need for infrastructure money, a gas tax increase. One of the Members suggested that we are on the verge of becoming a third-world country unless we take drastic action now. I agree. The Chairman is also knowledgeable about high-speed rail, due to his having studied in Belgium as young man. He compared the times it took him to travel in Europe with what can be done today with the Train à Grande Vitesse, or TGV.
The ranking minority Member, Representative John Mica (R-FL), reacted without having read the report and said there was not a snowball's chance in Hell of these proposals passing. He was referring to the gas-tax hike. He joked because upon the day of the hearing it was snowing hard. He acknowledged that there was much more to the report than that alternative idea. Congressmen Thomas Petri (R-WI) and Steven C. LaTourette (R-OH) both welcomed the report with open arms. Congressman Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR) ripped to shreds a view of minority dissenter Commissioner Rick Geddes, of Cornell University. He is big on pricing for highway passage based upon the need for revenue. It was a case of the professor in theory encountering real-world ideas.