U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) was confirmed by the House Republican Conference Wednesday to serve as Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) in the 112th Congress. He replaces Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the committee's former 18-term chairman who was edged out of office by 4,000 votes to a political newcomer in the biggest midterm shift of power in 70 years last month.
"Americans everywhere have no choice but to do more with less," Mica said in a statement released by the committee. "This will also be the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's mandate."
He added that one of his priorities will be to get stalled projects completed, particularly in light of a report last week by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, which is forecasting a 4.4% drop in the U.S. highway and bridge construction market in 2011. Everything from the completion of stimulus-funded projects to the unresolved Highway Trust Fund reauthorization has been blamed for the slowdown.
"The committee must pass stalled major surface transportation, aviation, and water resources bills, and I will do so as soon as possible in a manner that protects the taxpayers and creates jobs. It is critical that Congress jump-starts transportation projects to rebuild our nation's crumbling infrastructure and get people working," Mica added.
"Mica is highly regarded for the role he's played as ranking member. There's a consistent pattern of bipartisanship in this committee that we hope continues," says John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
Mica has served as the committee's Republican leader during the previous two Congressional sessions. He has been a member of the committee since his election to Congress in 1992.
The move marks the end of Oberstar's 30-year tenure on the committee, raising renewed concerns that the future of transportation infrastructure may largely depend on Oberstar's replacement as the ranking Democrat.
Christian Klein, vice president of government affairs for Associated Equipment Distributors, told PUBLIC WORKS that Democrats Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.) and Jerry F. Costello (Ill.) may get the nod to replace Oberstar, although neither has seniority over Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Va.) - who in May 2008 said he would urge President Obama to appoint Oberstar as secretary of transportation. Obama chose Oberstar's former colleague, former Representative Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), for the cabinet job.
Rahall, who has chaired the Committee on Natural Resources, is the senior Democrat on the House T&I Committee.
Klein is optimistic that the shift in power from a Democratic majority to a Republican majority - and ideology - may move to the forefront the issue of a renewed surface transportation bill.
Oberstar's proposed $450 billion, six-year bill would have set aside $87 billion in highway trust fund money for transit, would have consolidated the current 108 programs by eliminating or combining 75 of them, and would have established a National Infrastructure Bank. But few lawmakers expected it to pass. "Power was ceded from committee chairmen to [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's] office, so transportation infrastructure hasn't been on anyone's agenda," Klein said.
The extension of the current bill expires at the end of the month, but President Obama has said that he wants to pass a $50 billion bill in 2011 in addition to a long-term transportation plan - both of which would be created by the T&I committee.