Democratic control of the House of Representatives in the 110th Congress will place experienced and respected transportation leaders in key transportation posts, observers say.
With the Nov. 7th election's gain of 27 Democratic seats in the House will result in a change in leadership for all the committees come January, as well as the overall House leadership.
Based upon seniority rankings, it would appear that Rep. James Oberstar, (D-Minn.) will take over as Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he has served as ranking minority member for the past 12 years. However, Oberstar has served as a member of the key transportation committee since his election to Congress 32 years ago, and preceded that election as chief staff assistant to former House transportation leader Rep. John Blatnick from 1963-1974.
"Representative Oberstar has more than 40 years experience in transportation," said AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley. "He has the big picture, including aviation, highways and transit. I can think of no one with the same encyclopedic grasp of the nation's transportation system."
Likely chair of the Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee is Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who was elected Nov. 7th to his 11th term in the House, and who recently addressed AASHTO's board of directors in Portland, Ore., about the challenges he sees facing transportation in the future.
"The House Big Four have had a long tradition of a totally bipartisan approach to transportation programs," Horsley said. "I would expect to see that continue in the next Congress."
Oberstar released a statement Wednesday, Nov. 8, saying passing the Water Resources Development Act, reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration and dealing with port security were among his legislative priorities in the 110th Congress.
Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) will likely step into the role of Ranking Minority Member on the full committee, after serving as chairman of the Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee. With the retirement of Sherwood Boehlert (D-N.Y.), Howard Coble of North Carolina, who will enter his 12th term in office, is the next most senior member on the subcommittee.
Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida is the most senior Democrat on the Railroads Subcommittee and may switch leadership roles with current Chairman Steve LaTourrette of Ohio. It is this subcommittee that maintains oversight of Amtrak.
Ranking Member Jerry Costello of Illinois will likely become the Democrat's choice for chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, which is currently headed by John Mica of Florida. One of the most pressing tasks for the Aviation Subcommittee and the entire Congress will be the reauthorization of federal aviation programs, which expire in 2007.
Bob Filner (D-Calif.) becomes the highest-ranking Democrat on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee that is now chaired by Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey; the Water Resources Subcommittee Democrat Chairman will likely be Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, who will replace Tennessee's John Duncan; and the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Democrat Chair will probably be District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who will swap leadership will Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster.
The Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary and the District of Columbia is another key committee in which leadership will change. Rep. John Olver of Massachusetts is the highest-ranking Democrat on the subcommittee and will likely be named chair, replacing Joe Knollenberg of Michigan. Subcommittee member Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.) lost her re-election bid to John Yarmuth.