U hosts annual transportation forum

This year’s forum focused on addressing problems facing funding for the nation’s infrastructure.

by Anna Ewart

Lawmakers from Minnesota and across the country gathered to discuss national transportation policy at the James L. Oberstar Forum on Transportation Policy and Technology Monday afternoon in the Radisson University Hotel.

This year’s forum focused on addressing problems facing funding for the nation’s infrastructure. The sixth annual forum was entitled, “Our Nation’s Transportation Infrastructure: Heading Toward a Crisis.” The event was organized by the University’s Center for Transportation Studies.

Speakers at the event included U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation Norman Mineta, former Chairman of the U.S. Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Bud Shuster, and Congressman James Oberstar.

Oberstar, chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, spoke at this year’s forum, which bears his name. He said the nation isn’t doing enough to address transportation issues, which include highways, airways, railways, waterways and truck freight.

The goal of the forum was to organize political, public and private willpower to mobilize resources, Oberstar said.

“We need to rebuild public consensus and confidence in our transportation system,” he said. “Without conscious investment, we are seeing deterioration in that network of roadways.”

Oberstar also said this lack of investment in transportation could cause the United States to suffer economically. The United States is behind places like China, India and the European Union when it comes to new investments in transportation. He said if the nation does not invest in transportation planning, it will be left behind.

Klobuchar and Mineta said President George W. Bush has harmed their efforts to increase transportation funding.

Mineta said Bush has rejected bills that Mineta presented to him because they included increases in gas taxes to improve infrastructure.

That 2001 proposal had a 2 cent gasoline tax increase for the first year, third year, and fifth year. The federal gasoline tax has been 18.4 cents since 1993.

Klobucher said the President has threatened to veto the transportation bill, which contains money for national bridge funding.

“About 78,000 bridges in our country have been found to be structurally deficient,” Klobucher said.

Robert Johns, the director of the University’s Center for Transportation Studies, said addressing national and state infrastructure will be a challenge.

Johns said maintaining current bridge and highway conditions would cost $79 billion annually, but right now we are only spending $70 billion.

University President Bob Bruininks made the opening remarks at the forum. He said the University is pleased to host an event involving national transportation policy leaders and that this year’s topic is very timely because of the bridge collapse, which happened on the edge of campus.

Bruininks thanked Oberstar and other Minnesotans for their quick response to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

“There are few people in this country who have had a greater impact on something as important as transportation as Sen. Oberstar,” he said.

This was the first James L. Oberstar Forum on Transportation Policy and Technology held since Oberstar became chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in Washington, D.C. The event is hosted by the University’s Center for Transportation Policy and Technology every year.