James L. Oberstar, former chair of House T&I Committee, passes away at 79

Oberstar chaired the House T&I Committee from 2006-2010 and prior to that served as ranking minority member of the committee. He was highly-regarded for his knowledge of transportation issues and working with members of Congress in a productive bipartisan manner.

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Logistics Management regrets to report that James L. Oberstar, former Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Minnesota Congressman, passed away on May 3. He was 79.

Oberstar served in the House for 36 years and was the longest-serving Congressman ever from Minnesota, according to a Washington Post report. The report added that in the world of transportation, Mr. Oberstar had an international reputation as an expert and as an advocate of public investments to spur private growth. He became known, among other things, as a champion of “intermodality,” the idea of linking highway, air and rail systems with urban buses, subways and bike paths.

Oberstar chaired the House T&I Committee from 2006-2010 and prior to that served as ranking minority member of the committee. He was highly-regarded for his knowledge of transportation issues and working with members of Congress in a productive bipartisan manner.

Prior to losing to Republican Chip Cravaack in the 2010 mid-term elections, Oberstar was in the process of developing a six-year, $450 billion successor bill to the previous federal transportation authorization, SAFETEA-LU, which expired in 2009. And he pulled no punches in lamenting the lack of progress occurring near the end of his time in office, due to partisan bickering.

“We need to get people moving again and get them out of traffic,” Oberstar said. “What are we leaving for the next generation? What investments are we making to make their lives better?”

And when he was out of office, he was even more direct at the 2011 National Shippers Strategic Council (NASSTRAC) annual conference, when he explained in no uncertain terms that the role of transportation infrastructure in fostering economic growth and success in the United States is one which does not have a political party attached to it, and that is why it is imperative that the country does the work that is needed to put it at the forefront in planning for the future.

“Congestion affects economics, quality of life, and the delivery of goods, and that is the biggest challenge for you in serving your customers and making America work,” Oberstar told the audience comprised of shippers and carriers.

And given the political dividing lines and tension in play, Oberstar noted that politics is the business of the people and the policies of the nation. What is wrong in this mix, he said, is partisanship.
But when partisanship is prevalent and the business of the people becomes highly charged and polarized is when things break down, he said. But an exception to this partisanship was the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee he led from 2007-2011.

“I have never seen a Republican road or a Democratic bridge,” said Oberstar. “We can work together to build all American roads and bridges for the good of the country. When we stick together, we can pass good legislation.”

Aside from the current partisan differences, Oberstar said more priority needs to be placed on the movement of freight in the U.S., given the aging transportation system which he said is no longer keeping pace with international trade and has a direct impact on the economy and job growth.

Oberstar graduated from College of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota in 1956 and received an M.A. from the College of Europe, Bruges, Belgium in 1957. He served on the staff for United States Representative John Anton Blatnik of Minnesota from 1963-1974; an administrator of the Committee on Public Works, United States House of Representatives from1971-1974; and was elected as a Democrat to the Ninety-fourth and to the seventeen succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1975-January 3, 2011), according to the Bibliographical Directory of the United States Congress. 

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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