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House transportation leaders kick-off nationwide tour in West Virginia

West Virginia’s Beckley (right) and Charleston were the first two stops on a multi-state tour that House transportation leaders hope will result in a bipartisan bill to fund the nation’s infrastructure.

The current law, known as SAFETEA-LU, expired in September 2009 and has continued under a series of short-term extensions, the latest expiring in March.

Transportation remained on the back-burner during the previous Congress, but key players are signaling they want action this year. Yesterday, President Obama proposed a forward-looking, $556 billion transportation budget that doubles the nation’s investment in transit, consolidates duplicative programs and reforms how we spend federal dollars. And, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, a Florida Republican, has already been meeting with his Senate counterpart, Democrat Barbara Boxer, on a new bill.

Now, Mica is hitting the road with ranking Democrat Nick Rahall and other members of the Committee. Beckley is in West Virginia’s Third Congressional District, represented by Rahall since 1976.

West Virginia is a largely car-dependent state that lacks large-scale mass transit. But as state highway commissioner Paul Mattox Jr. pointed out during the Beckley hearing, other travel options remain crucial.

“Many West Virginians, particularly in the rural areas, are transit-dependent and utilize these services to get to work, the doctor, shopping and to take care of the necessities of life,” Mattox said, according to the Beckley Register-Herald. “The need for continued transportation investment in West Virginia is greater now than ever.”

And, in Charleston, a number of industry leaders emphasized the importance of both getting a bill done and the level of investment right.

“We hear a lot of talk about doing more with less,” the Charleston Gazette quoted Dan Cooperrider, president of Old Castle Materials’ Mid Atlantic Group, as saying. “If we continue doing more with less, soon we’ll be doing nothing.”

Members of the Committee are also making stops in the Philadelphia areas; Rochester, New York; the greater Chicago area; Vancouver, Washington; Fresno, California; Southern California; Oklahoma City; and elsewhere.

Photo: City-Data