October 22, 2009 at 7:50 a.m.
As Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Oberstar is the point person for road funding. He has served the eighth district in congress for 35 years.
County Engineer Joe Triplett spoke about problems Chisago County has encountered receiving allocations through the state Department of Transportation. MnDOT is the "pass through" agency for federal monies, but Triplett explained Chisago County doesn't get a fair chance to compete for projects due to various procedural issues. Triplett said point blank, that if it weren't for Oberstar representing Chisago County, he doubted the county would even be on the radar when it comes to state federal money stream priorities.
Oberstar explained that when the American Recovery Act funding went out to states, he asked two things; that the money not be tied up in metropolitan areas and that funds go to regions with high unemployment first.
Oberstar told Triplett the National Association of County Engineers must take a position and speak up when it comes to being ignored for county road needs. Triplett needs to get his fellow county engineers speaking in one voice to congress. "The state D-O-Ts think they run everything," Oberstar lamented.
The American Recovery Act was meant to fund infrastructure projects ready to break ground within 120 days. Rep. Oberstar said of the $34 billion in recovery monies that there's been 76 percent committed and 6,400 road projects are under contract, with another 2,200 "approved" for ARA funds.
Oberstar added that by next May funds will have worked through the system and he's pushing for a funding authorization for the next six-year transportation bill that will pick up where the ARA leaves-off. He doesn't want an "interim" transportation bill.
The issue of a gas tax is not supported by the White House, although, Oberstar says it is the "direct link" between road users and the revenue needed to maintain roads. He observed, "It's deficit neutral and accountable" as a revenue source. House members would support action on a gas tax, but the Senate probably wouldn't, he added.
A listing of 8,000 potential transportation projects is already being reviewed and compiled by the House. Rep. Oberstar hopes to build on the momentum of ARA projects and keep the ball rolling with a comprehensive transportation funding package, but he wasn't making any promises.
Oberstar also met with Chisago County Environmental Services Staff Mary Schmitz and Lisa Thibodeau, who gave a presentation on the hazardous medicines disposal program used here. Amendments to the Controlled Substances Act were discussed to make the program work better.
Wyoming City Council member Linda Nanko-Yeager spoke with the congressman at a small group meeting at the government center . Nanko-Yeager's daughter interned at Oberstar's office in D.C.
Others who met with Oberstar included State Sen. Rick Olseen, Lindstrom City officials, County Administrator John Moosey, County Chair Ben Montzka and Commissioner Rick Greene.
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