Before crafting their $556 billion transportation proposal, Obama administration officials toured the country, holding a series of listening sessions to hear what people wanted in a long-term transportation bill. Now, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is doing the same thing — but don’t expect committee Republicans to come to the same conclusions as the administration.
Whether or not they are willing to back a large, ambitious, reform-packed bill, Republicans are hearing that action is needed urgently. That was the message at the first field hearing, held in West Virginia this Monday. Both GOP and Democratic members of the committee heard from officials representing the state DOT, a contractors association, two highway authorities and the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute (named for West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall, ranking member of the T&I committee and representative of the district where the hearing took place).
Rahall presided over the hearing, held in a small theater in Tamarack, which bills itself as a center for West Virginia artisans but could also be described as an overbuilt highway rest stop. Taylor Kuykendall, a reporter for the local Register-Herald, said the audience was sparse, as it was not an open town hall but rather a forum only for the committee’s invited guests. Kuykendall estimated there were about 20 people in attendance, and only four members of the committee were present – Rahall, Chair John Mica (R-FL), Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) and Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
Kuykendall summarized some highlights of the hearing in a report earlier this week:
[Paul Mattox Jr., Commissioner of Highways at the West Virginia Department of Transportation] supported progress with the “critical” highway authorization act. He also stressed the need for public transit.