Fawn Johnson, Correspondent, for the National Journal initiated this stream with a blog entitled A Difficult Lift for Shuster.  She asks the following questions: “What should committee members be focusing on next year when it comes to transportation? Will it really be another four years before a highway bill gets done? Will a new chairman breathe life into the committee? How should legislators confront the niche transportation issues like rail, transit, and aviation? What makes a good transportation leader?”  Jack Schenendorf of Covington & Burling, who represents the Ports-to-Plains Alliance in Washington, D.C.  gave the following response.

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National Journal Transportation Experts Blog

December 6, 2012

This week’s blog asks a number of questions. Let me take them one at a time.

What should committee members be focusing on next year when it comes to transportation?

There are a number of measures—such as a water resources development bill, a rail reauthorization bill, and reauthorization bills for a number of smaller programs—that are due for action in 2013. In addition, the committee should start work on the surface transportation reauthorization effort, given that MAP-21 expires on September 30, 2014, which in political terms is right around the corner. And the committee should also conduct aggressive oversight of its programs, especially DOT’s implementation of the extensive reforms in MAP-21.

Furthermore, in 2013 the President and Congress will likely try to get the nation’s fiscal house in order by enacting comprehensive tax reform and spending reform. As part of that effort, the committee should look for opportunities to address transportation’s “fiscal cliff:” the looming Highway Trust Fund deficit in fiscal years 2015 and beyond. The trust fund faces a 10-year deficit of well over $100 billion just to maintain existing investment levels, which by any standard are inadequate to provide the modern, efficient, and safe national surface transportation system that America needs in today’s highly-competitive global marketplace. The Highway Trust Fund needs a long-term, stable, and adequate revenue stream. 2013 may be the year to make it happen.

Will it really be another four years before a highway bill gets done?

It shouldn’t be. As a nation, it is imperative that we get our fiscal house in order. Transportation is part of the solution. A modern, efficient, and safe national transportation network is essential for strong economic growth, robust private-sector job creation, and international competitiveness. This importance of transportation to economic growth should spur timely action on the next bill.

And make no mistake—the stakes are high. Without significant improvements to the national network, freight transportation will become increasingly inefficient and unreliable, undermining the ability of American businesses to grow, create jobs, and compete in the global marketplace. The economy will suffer. And Americans will waste more time stuck in congestion and have greater difficulty reaching job opportunities.

Will a new chairman breathe life into the committee?

Transitions inherently provide opportunities.

How should legislators confront the niche transportation issues like rail, transit, and aviation?

To meet the freight and passenger demands of the 21st century, America needs a modern, efficient and safe national transportation system. It must be multimodal and it must be integrated into a seamless network. No one mode by itself can get the job done. We need all of the modes working together. As a result, legislators shouldn’t think about or confront any mode as a “niche mode.” They are all part of a national integrated network.

What makes a good transportation leader?

A good transportation leader should believe in and be passionate about transportation. He or she should understand how important transportation is to economic growth, private sector job creation, and international competitiveness, as well as to the quality of life of all Americans. He or she should have a clear vision of what needs to be accomplished. He or she should have the focus, perseverance, and strength of character to succeed, a person who will keep the shoulder to the wheel regardless of the difficulty, but is flexible and pragmatic enough to adapt to changed circumstances. He or she should recognize that transportation is critical to all Americans—regardless of political affiliation—and seek to reach across the political aisle to put partisanship aside. Importantly, he or she must be an excellent communicator and consensus builder, someone who will tell the hard truths, listen to the diverse opinions of colleagues and stakeholders, bring about consensus whenever possible, and develop coalitions based on shared principles and goals. And finally, he or she should have a positive attitude that instills trust and respect and brings out the best in people and organizations.

In my view, the transportation community is quite fortunate. Having known Chairman-Elect Bill Shuster since the days that I worked on the committee for his father, I believe he has what it takes to be a good transportation leader, especially at this time when transportation faces many challenges in an uncertain political and economic climate.