Oberstar talks transportation on campus

The forum focused on upcoming transportation policy changes.

;U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar visited campus Monday to discuss transportation policy changes.

About 150 transportation experts and devotees from across the area were on hand for the seventh James L. Oberstar Forum on Transportation Policy and Technology.

Democrat Oberstar, who chairs the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and represents Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, spoke about the future of national transportation policy. Current federal legislation will expire in 2009, opening the floor to a new direction in policy and programs.

Likening the nation’s transportation infrastructure to his hip surgery, Oberstar said it’s time for a change before things get worse.

“Transportation use has vastly outpaced population growth,” he said.

Pointing to increased congestion and traffic safety problems as evidence that there needs to be more transportation support, Oberstar said congestion alone costs the nation billions of dollars per year.

Discussion at the forum was based on a report from the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, which examines changes that can be made to improve transportation when current legislation expires.

The report analyzes policy reforms, restructuring of government programs and funding.

Steve Heminger is one of several of the report’s commissioners who participated in a panel discussion. He said the report doesn’t recommend current transportation to be reauthorized.

Heminger emphasized the need for transportation projects to progress more quickly. Important projects should happen faster, he said, not just after emergencies such as the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

“They are doing something phenomenal,” Heminger said of the new bridge’s rapid construction.

Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, who represents Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District, spoke at the forum as well. Rail and river transportation are important for Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest, he said, and University research is a step in the right direction of developing rail lines in the state to relieve pressure on highways.

People should make it clear to candidates in upcoming elections that they care about transportation issues, he said.

“This decision extends beyond the next election,” said Walz, who’s also a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Robert Johns, director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University, said the University was excited about the topic of this year’s forum, “The Next Authorization: Transforming Transformation Policy?”

“There’s a question mark at the end of that title,” he said. “What we’re exploring is how much will this next authorization be a transformation.”