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Bush Administration: Time to Face Traffic
By LESLIE MILLER
Associated Press Writer
May 16, 2006
WASHINGTON — Moving people or freight around America just can’t be done anymore without encountering one bottleneck or another, and the Bush administration said Tuesday that it’s time to do something about the congestion.
“Congestion is not a fact of life. We need a new approach and we need it now,” said Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.
Five years ago, Mineta complained that “congestion and delay not only waste our time as individuals, they also burden our businesses and our entire economy.”
The transportation secretary unveiled a strategy to reduce congestion that included privatizing roads, putting tolls on busy roads and designating corridors for development to speed movement of truck and rail freight.
Mineta outlined the plan to a meeting of the National Retail Federation.
Traffic jams have only gotten worse in most places in the five years since Mineta declared congestion was a national problem.
Commuters and truckers aren’t the only ones complaining. Shippers face congestion at crowded ports and along jammed railroads, and airline delays are on the upswing.
When a reporter asked why it took so long to come up with a congestion strategy, Mineta said the Transportation Department first had to win passage of the six-year, $286.4 billion highway and mass transit bill. The bill was signed into law nine months ago.
“Who are they kidding?” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat who sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “This is part of a Hail Mary pass.”
Greg Cohen, president of the American Highway Users Alliance, said he’s glad transportation officials are finally focusing on traffic jams.
“It is actually groundbreaking to see the Transportation Department say, ‘Congestion is not necessary and we can make it a thing of the past,'” Cohen said.
But, he said, “I don’t see a whole lot here in terms of actually paying for this stuff.”
Democrats criticized the plan’s reliance on privatizing roads and charging tolls to use them.
“They’re recognizing a real and growing problem, but I think they come up short on their solutions,” said Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, a senior Democrat on the transportation committee.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., blasted the plan for ignoring passenger rail.
“This country cannot have a serious discussion about reducing traffic congestion when the Bush administration refuses to include rail service as part of its plan,” Lautenberg said.
The national strategy is long on expediting, promoting and encouraging, but short on new funding.
It calls for transportation officials to seek “Urban Partnership Agreements” for a few communities “willing to demonstrate new congestion relief strategies.”
It encourages states to pass laws that let private companies invest in transportation and it promotes such technological improvements as “better real-time traffic information.”
There’ll even be a competition to select up to five “interstate corridors of the future” for long-term investment.
The Highway Users’ Cohen said the publicity surrounding earmarks to the highway bill — epitomized by the “bridge to nowhere,” a $223 million span in Alaska to an island with a population of about 50 — made it clear that the highway program isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.
“Folks want to get out of traffic,” Cohen said.