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Let's Talk Transit, Not Iraq

Four congressmen with a lot of clout on transportation funding met in the shadow of Portland's aerial tram Thursday  morning. Three Northwest representatives joined the transportation committee chairman to call for a different strategy out of Washington, D.C.

No they weren't talking about Iraq. They were talking about adding streetcar lines and lanes for rapid buses, as a condition of getting federal money for local road projects. Rob Manning reports.

Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer welcomed nearby Washington representative, Brian Baird, and congressional transportation chairman, Jim Oberstar to see a motherlode of transit projects.

They chose to speak at a terrace in Portland's South Waterfront district, for its symbolism. It's at the convergence of overpasses, freeways, a river, train tracks, a streetcar line, and of course, the aerial tram.

Minnesota Congressman Oberstar said the next transportation bill in 2009 will emphasize public transit.

Jim Oberstar: “And the template for that is right here, Portland, Vancouver, the Pacific Northwest, in this rich region of understanding of response to transportation - and citizen involvement - and business support.”

But Oberstar, and his Democratic allies hosting him in Portland say they have a different view of “business support” from the Bush Administration. DeFazio says the executive branch is depending too much on private business.

Peter DeFazio: “Now, they're saying, well, the federal government doesn't have a role to play here, it should be the private sector through congestion pricing and new private-public partnerships. No, the federal government has a tremendous role to play on issues of interstate commerce.”

Chairman Oberstar also objected to so-called “congestion pricing”, which basically charges people for driving at certain times.

The four representatives voiced unanimous support for investing substantial federal money in opening up the traffic chokepoints between Portland and Vancouver. And they agreed that some kind of public transit would have to be a major component.

One argument that transit supporters sometimes use to push for things like light rail is that it can reduce reliance on foreign oil. Yet, Congressman DeFazio didn't want to talk much about the politics of oil, in terms of Iraq.

Peter DeFazio: “I think we'll leave that for now, and stick to transportation for now, thanks.”

Blumenauer waited until after the press conference to blast the latest Iraq strategy.

Washington Rep. Brian Baird, disagrees with many Democrats in voicing support for the military plans, but he didn't comment on Iraq this time around.  Baird did get some applause from his colleagues, when he emphasized using American companies for large transportation projects.

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