Congress has seldom managed to pass a transportation funding measure without severe birth pangs, and this time around promises to be no exception. The draft of the latest authorization bill, released by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is a sweeping measure that calls for big changes in policy and funding. It sets up a battle with the Obama Administration, which would prefer to extend the current Highway Trust Fund for another 18 months before tackling any larger issues. The House bill proposes to spend some $500bn on repair and construction of the nation's infrastructure, with a big emphasis on mass transit and high-speed rail. What's more, it raises the strong possibility of higher gas taxes in the short term, an idea that is opposed by the Administration. All of this will be hashed out in the weeks and months to come. But for shippers and freight haulers, there's a larger question in play: will lawmakers continue to give short shrift to commercial transportation, when doling out the funds for necessary improvements? Early reaction to the draft bill seems to repeat the old pattern of focusing on passenger traffic and mass transit, at the expense of freight. The coalition known as Transportation for America (http://www.t4america.org), claiming to represent around 300 organizations, sounded off on the measure in a recent press conference. Director James Corless saw some positive elements, but spoke of "lots of holes in this bill -- no dollar amounts, no formulas [for how much money each state gets], no earmark projects." His group wants to see more spending on public transportation - no surprise there - and is also keen on aspects of the bill that would lead to a more environmentally responsible system. And Judith Bell, president of PolicyLink, is urging legislators to pay special attention to the transport needs of low-income communities. That's all well and good, but freight interests might ask themselves whether their voices will be heard in the noisy debate over matters with a traditionally higher public profile. Meanwhile, the Highway Trust Fund is once more on the verge of going broke. Will freight get its fair share of the money authorized by the new bill? Will we ever see another Alameda Corridor? And if we do, who will pay for it? The measure contains some positive things for the commercial sector, but whether they can survive the battle of special interests is another matter entirely. What impact do you think the bill in its current form would have on freight, and what should its priorities be in that area? Let's hear your views.
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