Florida Congressman worries about transportation funding, wants tolls & to hike gas taxes

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Florida congressman pushes transportation infrastructure plan
Associated Press
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

— The top Republican on the House Transportation Committee continued pushing a national infrastructure plan Wednesday that would seek to address more than just aging bridges like the one that collapsed in Minnesota last week.

Rep. John Mica said his plan attacked a larger problem than the bridge-specific proposal made Wednesday by Rep. Jim Oberstar, who wants to create a trust fund for structurally deficient spans on the National Highway System.

Oberstar, D-Minn., is chairman of the House committee that includes Mica and is expected to hold a hearing on structurally deficient bridges when Congress returns from recess next month.

“That’s sort of like me coming to you and saying I have an 80-year-old house, the roof is leaking, the plumbing is decrepit and the floors are caving in,” Mica said. “But what I’m going to do is make some repairs on the driveway and everything will be OK.”

Speaking at the Texas Transportation Summit, Mica said last week’s Minnesota bridge collapse that killed at least five people and injured about 100 should result in more than the typical “knee-jerk” reactions from lawmakers.

Mica is pushing for what the Florida lawmaker calls a national strategic transportation infrastructure plan, in which Congress would definitively answer questions like the federal government’s role in infrastructure maintenance and create a solution to transportation financing.

Mica characterized the federal gasoline tax that pays for building and repairing roads and bridges as “becoming obsolete” in an outline of his plan. He said that while Congress may need to look at the indexing, the rising number of cars using alternative fuels means that an increasing number of drivers won’t be paying the tax.

“The solution is not just raising gas taxes,” Mica said. “There’s a much more fundamental need for correcting the whole way in which we finance the system.”

Mica said he would like to have his plan in place by September 2009.

Under Oberstar’s proposal, the trust fund would be modeled on the federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for building and repairing roads and bridges through a gasoline tax. Money in the new trust fund could not be used for any other purpose.

The proposal would require that the U.S. Department of Transportation come up with a formula for distributing funds based on public safety and need, banning congressional and executive branch earmarks.

Across the country, more than 70,000 bridges are rated structurally deficient, including the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis. Repairing them all would cost more than $188 billion, engineers estimate.

© 2007 Naples Daily News and NDN Productions. Published in Naples, Florida, USA by the E.W. Scripps Co.