Earlier this week, Stanton Communications held our second roundtable conversation with Rep. Bill Shuster, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. As always, Chairman Shuster was generous with his time and offered attendees valuable insight into some of the issues he is considering as the committee develops legislation and conducts oversight.
Among the wide range of topics discussed, here are four that struck our Public Affairs team:
- The Highway Trust Fund: It is no secret among transportation experts that the Highway Trust Fund is going broke. In fact, estimates suggest that by October of this year, the Fund will run out money because of reduced gasoline sales caused by better vehicle mileage and increased construction costs. The dilemma for policymakers centers on how to replenish the Trust Fund without raising additional taxes, which is anathema to a majority of House Republicans. The Chairman made it clear he is not interested in a short-term fix, but rather is intent on pursuing long-term reauthorization over 5-6 years, to give state governments and industry what they need to plan and implement substantial infrastructure projects. The dichotomy between the need to re-build our transportation infrastructure so that America can compete in a global economy with a commitment to avoid additional taxes make this an issue to watch over the next year.
- Aviation Industry: The aviation industry is a huge economic driver that needs better support and restructuring to maintain its competitive edge in an intense global market. Airlines, the major aerospace manufacturers and the authorities that run America’s airports recognize this need and look to Congress for a path forward. Chairman Shuster noted that FAA reauthorization is a top priority for the committee after the surface bill is passed and noted that there will need to be reform in the way we finance our airports and work with airlines that face stiff competition from their foreign and mainly government subsidized competitors. For an indication on how a FAA reauthorization bill could take shape, one only needs to look at WRRDA, which will become the model for major reform legislation coming out of the T&I Committee. Expect an “everything is on the table” approach to FAA reauthorization and as the Chairman mentioned the meeting, legislation is only effective if it hurts everyone just a bit, equally.
- Smart Cars, Smart Roads: Unlike our previous roundtable with Shuster, this week’s event featured strong representation from technology companies. Our clients Sprint and the Consumer Electronics Association were joined by representatives from Google, Twitter and the Intelligent Transportation Society. A key takeaway for our team was the Chairman’s point that the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill will need to consider the future by establishing the foundation for a broad incorporation of technology to support smart roads and cars. The rate of technology adoption compared to a bill’s implementation timeframe suggest that by time the next bill is considered, the technology for widespread driverless cars will be readily available. Technology companies interested in defining the future infrastructure needs of smart cars and smart roads would be wise to pay close attention this year’s MAP 21 reauthorization.
- Safe Energy Transportation: In response to a question, Chairman Shuster expounded on the importance of safe energy transportation in protecting the country’s energy boom. Noting efforts by the rail industry to improve the safety of their tank cars and the industry’s track record in transporting oil and gas, he acknowledge that safety must be a top priority in order to avoid the types of devastating accidents or spills that have happened in the last year. The Chairman’s comments came a day before a Senate hearing on rail safety and long-awaited rules on tank car safety.