‘‘It’s all well and good to say let’s have private investment, but that’s just another way of saying we don’t want to talk about the money,’’ Schank said.
Romney has called for ending subsidies to Amtrak, the nation’s passenger railroad network. Obama has supported Amtrak, and Vice President Joe Biden is one of the railroad’s biggest fans.
Historically, transportation has been one of the few issues to span the ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans. The only Democrat in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet was Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, a former California congressman. The only Republican currently in Obama’s Cabinet is Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Illinois congressman.
But that bipartisan consensus has evaporated in recent years.
House Republicans were unable to pass their own transportation bill this year — they ultimately accepted the Senate’s version — largely because of division in their own ranks. Some GOP lawmakers wanted to continue the large federal role in transportation that began with construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. More conservative members wanted to turn transportation policy almost completely over to the states.
On the Democratic side, environmentalists and smart-growth advocates have increased their influence on transportation policy. They want to use transportation aid to encourage denser housing close to mass transit that will encourage people to rely less on their cars. They argue that highway aid ought to be limited to repairing and improving existing roads and bridges rather than new construction.
‘‘There have always been differences in emphasis,’’ said Rob Atkinson, who headed the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission set up by Congress. ‘‘But now we have starkly different visions of the federal role in surface transportation policy that we haven’t had since the interstate highway system was built.’’
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National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission report http://financecommission.dot.gov