Bold moves for transportation?
Ronald Utt recently retired as a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation. He spoke to the Trib about some of the nation's key transportation issues as U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, ascends to the chairmanship of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Q: What are the largest challenges facing Rep. Shuster as he heads transportation?
A: You have a federal transportation program that is largely stuck in the past, the allocations and spending choices are largely political and very little of this has any relevance to the actual transportation needs of the people who move around.
Bill Shuster is (walking into this) at a time when there is very little agreement on anything. The existing transportation law that we live under expired probably 2½ years ago and nobody has been able to agree on a new one, so what they do is simply keep extending the old one.
Q: How does that kind of climate impact initiatives such as high-speed rail?
A: The Obama national high-speed-rail program is about as dead as a program could be. The only real high-speed-rail program is the California one (but) the problem is that California has no money to do it so it keeps flopping along with essentially no progress. If you were to ask me to bet on this, I would say it will never be built.
Q: Do you think it's about time to write the obituary for high-speed rail in America?
A: There's no question about that. You know, Obama doesn't even talk about it anymore because he would be reminding everybody of a signature policy initiative that nobody supported, and that's one of many.
Q: So that leaves rail in the hands of Amtrak. What do you see for its future?
A: I think Amtrak will continue to be what is, which is more or less precisely what it was in the early 1970s. It serves a tiny fraction of the traveling public, less than one-half of 1 percent. It's not particularly well run, it's not particularly convenient and on average most trains are half-full. The problem is not that there aren't enough seats to accommodate people; there are not enough people to accommodate the seats. But this thing will continue to go along because there are lots of people who are obsessed with trains. They think they are neat. It tends to be a bipartisan affliction.
Q: Is that sort of stasis indicative of the transportation program as a whole?
A: The program has been largely untouched for several decades. It's a top-down program where the federal bureaucracy tells the states what they must do. You must fund this, you must build that. And the more musts they have, the less money is actually going to transportation needs as determined by the people who are actually on the ground trying to make the system work.
Q: So it's fair to say Rep. Shuster has his work cut out for him?
A: He certainly does. This is not a pleasant time to be head of that particular committee. There are real challenges there. At the same time, he has tremendous opportunities to make bold moves and reform things for the future. The choice is his. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Steelers rising fast in mediocre AFC
- Steelers offense learning to slam door
- Steelers clinch trip to postseason with big victory over Chiefs
- Steelers-Bengals game to start at 8:30 p.m.
- Pittsburgh police doubling up on duty after potential threats
- Pittsburgh mayor Peduto goes ‘Undercover’ for CBS reality show
- Downie, Farnham bringing a much-needed edge to the Penguins
- Heyward, swarming defense get best of Chiefs in Steelers’ win
- Charity helps dozens of McKeesport area children in need get new shoes
- Allegheny County district attorney prosecutors move on to state office
- Old-school booksellers learn to survive, thrive in digital age