JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, on Wednesday said he’s going to look for every penny he can find to improve the nation’s highways, bridges, airports, railways and waterways.
His comments came three hours after the seventh-term congressman was selected as chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The selection by the House Republican conference makes Shuster the highest ranking Pennsylvania congressman.
“Funding is a challenge. We’ve got to consider user fees on all aspects of transportation,” he said in a teleconference with about a dozen reporters from throughout the 11 counties making up the 9th Congressional District.
“We’ve got to think outside the box. I don’t think you can rule anything out,” he said from his Capitol Hill office.
Shuster, 52, a Bedford County native who has been in Congress since 2001, will serve as chairman of the same committee that his father, Bud Shuster of Everett, headed from 1995 to 2001.
The younger Shuster’s district includes portions of Cambria and Somerset counties.
“I obviously thought about my father. I can call him at any time and ask his opinion,” he said of the man who represented the 9th district for three decades. “But on the other side of the coin, he’ll call me and tell me what I did wrong.”
Several weeks ago Shuster began hinting that he wanted to take over as chairman of the committee on which he has served for 11 years, much of the time as chairman of the subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.
Two days after winning re-election, he announced his candidacy for the leadership post and sent letters to fellow Republicans outlining his leadership role and strong record for working across party lines.
The chairmanship became available because Florida Rep. John Mica, who served as chairman of the committee for the past six years, is barred from continuing by term limit rules.
While Shuster said he had to “jump over” a number of other members with more seniority, he had no serious competition for the leadership role.
Shuster’s challenges include finding money for completion of the final section of U.S. Route 219 south to Interstate 68 in Maryland, funding improvements to routes 81 and 95 elsewhere in the state and updating waterways and airports.
Asked about how he’ll find more money to fund highway construction, Shuster would not say Wednesday whether he would seek an increase in the federal gas tax. It has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon for two decades.
He called upon the states, including Pennsylvania, to step up with enhanced revenue to go along with federal money.
“The states have to do their share. It’s not just a federal issue,” he said.
Because of a lack of funding, the current federal transportation law covers just two years and is set to expire in 2014.
“We didn’t have the money to pay for a longer bill. That’s going to be the big challenge, how to fund a longer bill,” he said.
While he speaks fondly about local highways and major interstates in the western and eastern borders of his district, Shuster vowed to work for all areas of the country.
“One of my goals is to get back to bipartisanship on the committee,” he said. “There are no Democratic or Republican bridges, and I’m going to work very hard to reach across the aisle.”
Transportation and Infrastructure is one of the largest committees in the Congress.
In addition to elements of transportation, it has jurisdiction over areas including clean water and waste water management, pipelines, flood damage reduction, economic development of depressed areas, disaster preparedness, and activities of the Army Corps of Engineers and various missions of the Coast Guard.