I like how he says it

New T&I chair DeFazio could be just what industry needs

Bill Wilson / December 03, 2018
Bill Wilson

I would love to lip-sync to Peter DeFazio.

No, he’s not the lead singer of a drunken bar band that ventured out on his own. Most, if not all, in this industry know him by name . . . well, at least his last name. I believe the brains of Rep. DeFazio (D-Ore.) and myself are dialed in. We are direct talkers, we say it like it is. So I certainly would not mind sitting at a podium and mouthing something like this: “About 75% of the crude oil marketed here is sold off the books, and they are doing trades that would be illegal if it was a regulated market, and of course they do not want to regulate it.”

Ah, yes . . . sing it, man! DeFazio does not paint unicorns and rainbows. His mind draws a picture of a heroin addict overdosing in an alley, and then his words follow. With the November elections tying a cape on the Democrats in the House, DeFazio will be the new chair of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, replacing Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.). Shuster served three terms as the T&I head and is retiring after this year. His accomplishments, in my own words, amounted to a skeleton compared to his father’s work (Bud Shuster). It was just an outline of the muscle and blood-pumping measures of Bud, who was the father of ISTEA and TEA-21. Bud Shuster was the greatest T&I chair I have ever written about, and son Bill had his moments, like the FAST Act. However, the younger of the two had a different climate to work with, which led to too many mentions of the dreaded word “extension.”

Now DeFazio will have his slams with the gavel, and he arrives at perhaps the most critical time for the transportation industry. The Highway Trust Fund can no longer be trusted. Gas-tax receipts continue to dip, and autonomous vehicles are all the rave. That means money needs to be generated for the infrastructure to run the robot-piloted cars . . . if and when that happens. (Call me the usual skeptic here; I don’t think cars will be driving themselves for a long time).

DeFazio will step into the Shuster-warmed T&I chair with the microphone on, and he is not going to do any sound checks. He is going in there with his mouth blazing, which is exactly what the transportation industry needs. In an interview with MarketWatch in mid-November, DeFazio said he already had a meeting with the head of congressional affairs Shahira Knight on the next major transportation bill and said, “You know, it can’t be bulls***, it can’t be asset recycling. [It can’t be] ‘We are going to toll everything, we’re going to privatize everything’. I said there has to be real federal investment.” Ah, yes, play it again, Peter! Knight told DeFazio the president could support a measure that would increase the federal gas tax. DeFazio went on to say he already has an agenda for January, which is passing measures which support a harbor-maintenance tax and an airline passenger facility charge. The facility charge, which would help road and bridge contractors, was a main talking point during the FAA reauthorization bill that was recently passed, but it was never included. DeFazio wants an infrastructure package funded by July, and a new six-year bill in the works.

If the Democrats are not so focused on impeaching President Trump, DeFazio’s term as the T&I chairman could have an instant impact. However, if Trump falls off his rocker while tweeting to defend himself, expect more of that dreaded word: “extension.” That could be apocalyptic. I’m just telling it as I see it. You might hear the same thing coming out of Peter DeFazio’s mouth.

About the Author

Wilson is editorial director of Roads & Bridges.

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