Shuster lays out agenda for House Transportation Committee

Shuster said the panel would focus on passing a new funding bills for waterways and rail programs early in his tenure as Transportation Committee Chairman.

"Reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act will be a top priority," he wrote. "Inland waterways and seaports link our nation directly to the global economy and our country’s export potential directly depends on the ability to get goods to market.

"Federal passenger and freight rail safety programs expire in 2013," he continued. "This reauthorization will provide an opportunity to look for more cost-effective and innovative approaches to delivering modern and efficient passenger rail service."

To successfully pass such a rail bill "will require Amtrak, labor and Congress — Republicans and Democrats — coming to the table and working together," Shuster continued.

"If done right, what has been a liability in the past can become an asset generating American jobs and economic development in the future," he said.

Shuster also promised in the op-ed that he would "pursue an aggressive oversight agenda," specifically as it relates to implementation of the $105 billion transportation bill that was approved by Congress last year.

"Oversight of the recently enacted MAP-21 will be critical to ensure its major reforms, including the streamlining of the bureaucratic approval process for transportation projects, are implemented in accordance with congressional intent," he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and other transportation-related agencies will also be under the watchful eye of the Transportation Committee, Shuster continued.

"Ensuring we move forward with important aviation modernization reforms is also essential to reduce air traffic delays, cut down on emissions and pollution, and lower costs for consumers," he wrote. "We will also focus on holding federal agencies accountable to ensure common-sense regulations and to restore regulatory balance to provide the certainty necessary to create jobs."

Even as he talked of monitoring the implementation of the current funding bill for road and transit projects, however, Shuster said the Transportation Committee would begin right away preparing for the next highway authorization bill.

"Preparing for the reauthorization of surface transportation programs, which expire on Sept. 30, 2014, will be a priority of the committee," he said of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Act (MAP-21).

"Our national surface transportation network is the foundation on which our economy and our way of life are built," Shuster said. "Without significant improvements to this network, and additional reforms to federal programs, transportation will become increasingly inefficient and unreliable, will be a drag on our economy, and will hurt the ability of our businesses to remain competitive in the global economy. We cannot let this happen and must modernize our national transportation systems."

Shuster said the pool of money that normally funds federal transportation projects, the Highway Trust Fund, was "facing its own version of a fiscal cliff in the coming year," making it necessary for lawmakers to consider other funding mechanisms for road and transit development.

The 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax that fills the coffers of the Highway Trust Fund produces almost $20 billion less per year than is spent by the most recent bill passed by lawmakers this year to fund transportation through 2014.

Lawmakers closed the gap with a series of fee increases and tax loopholes closures, but Shuster said that was not a sustainable plan.
"We cannot borrow our way to a better future," he wrote. "We must work together, listen to all ideas and opinions, and build a consensus on what is best for America and our future prosperity."

Shuster has previously expressed openness to funding mechanisms such as the controversial vehicle-miles-traveled tax, where drivers would pay for the amount of driving they did instead of the amount of gas they buy.