Kaine primed for driver’s seat on transportation issues as VP
As published by Melanie Zanona in The Hill
Sen. Tim Kaine might be Hillary Clinton’s newly minted sidekick, but the Democratic vice presidential nominee is primed for the driver’s seat when it comes to infrastructure issues.
Kaine, a former governor of Virginia and mayor of Richmond, has long been a fierce transportation advocate for his state.
He has fought to repair the deteriorating Arlington Memorial Bridge, pushed for greater federal oversight of Washington’s Metrorail system and championed tax and fee increases for infrastructure projects throughout Virginia.
“You could almost call him the infrastructure governor for Virginia. He’s done pretty amazing things,” said Norman Anderson, CEO of strategy firm CG/LA Infrastructure. “So (Clinton’s) got a nice wingman to actually be in charge of that.”
But it remains to be seen whether Kaine will be able to draw on his local experience and elevate transportation issues to the national level.
While a number of states have agreed to raise their own gas taxes to finance infrastructure projects, coming up with a long-term funding solution at the federal level for better roads and bridges has long evaded Washington.
Still, transportation advocates are excited by the prospect of having Kaine in their corner. Even a member of Metro’s Board of Directors gave Kaine a shout-out at a meeting this week.
“Having a regular rider on the system could be beneficial,” said board member Jim Corcoran. “This is not an endorsement, just a recognition.”
As senator, Kaine has aggressively pushed to fix the decaying Arlington Memorial Bridge, taking a tour of the structure just last month and sounding the alarm over its deficient state at a press conference.
The bridge repair project just secured $90 million in federal grants, which were made available through a newly created investment source that Kaine helped attach to last year’s multi-year highway bill.
The surface transportation law contains language drafted by Kaine that steps up federal safety oversight of Metro and requires federal members of its board to be appointed by the Department of Transportation instead of an unrelated department.
Kaine also joined a Senate effort to ensure Metro retains its full funding in fiscal year 2017, mounting a defense of the beleaguered transit agency as it scrambles to address ongoing safety issues.
During his primetime speech at the Democratic National Convention this week, Kaine even touted some of his infrastructure efforts as a member of the Senate Budget Committee, saying, “We are fighting for investments in education, health care, research, and transportation.”
Kaine also made headway on transportation issues as Virginia’s governor. He helped bring Metrorail to Dulles International Airport; secured federal funding for high-occupancy lanes on the Beltway and Interstate 95; installed a light-rail system in Norfolk; and expanded Amtrak service to Richmond and Hampton Roads while extending new service to Lynchburg and Roanoke.
“Maintaining our roads, bridges and rail systems will create jobs, improve the daily lives of Virginia commuters and pave the path to economic growth in the Commonwealth by investing in this common good,” Kaine’s Senate website says. “We can all find a better use for two weeks a year than sitting in traffic.”
The 2016 Democratic platform calls for major funding increases for the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and transit systems.
Clinton has laid out her own sweeping infrastructure plan, which includes a $25 billion national infrastructure bank to help get more private capital off the sidelines.
As vice president, Kaine could face a slew of transportation issues, including long-term highway and aviation bills, modernizing the Northeast Corridor and closing an estimated $1.4 trillion infrastructure gap.
But getting solutions for those priorities over the finish line would be a tall order for any candidate.
The gas tax hasn’t been raised at the federal level in over 20 years, while the most recent highway bill was funded through a series of budgetary gimmicks.
Anderson pointed out that Kaine has generally succeeded in allocating resources for infrastructure projects and choosing the public-private partnerships that are most likely to succeed.
And Virginia is hailed as a multi-modal state, giving Kaine a diverse tool belt when it comes to tackling these issues.
But even as a fierce transportation champion, perhaps Kaine’s biggest challenge on the national stage would be ensuring that infrastructure isn’t crowded out by other pressing priorities.
“Turning those expectations into a reality is probably going to be the biggest challenge, because it’s a big vast government with lots of things that need to be addressed. Transportation isn’t the only one,” said Ed Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. “But it’s a job I think (Kaine) is as ready as anyone for.”