October 24, 2016 11:50 AM, EDT

House Chairman Defends Federal Transportation Agency During Debate

Pete Marovich/Bloomberg News

LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — The top transportation policymaker in the U.S. House rejected the notion of devolving transportation authority from the U.S. Department of Transportation to state agencies during a debate with a tea party-backed opponent at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus on Oct. 21.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation panel, urged constituents of the 9th Congressional District in central Pennsylvania, to view the role of the federal government as vital to regional economies. The chairman’s main rival in the November election, Art Halvorson, advocated for minimizing the federal transportation apparatus to allow states to manage roads, bridges, and freight infrastructure.

Debating before fewer than 100 residents at the university's auditorium, Shuster cited the U.S. Constitution and “Wealth of Nations” author Adam Smith to back his defense of the federal government. He also stressed the five-year highway bill his committee passed and President Obama signed into law in December aims to expand capacity along regional freight corridors to improve the flow of trucks.

“Anybody who doesn’t understand the Constitution or understand the ‘Wealth of Nations’ knows that something that benefits us all should be a responsibility of our government, and that’s what transportation does,” Shuster said.

Halvorson, a retired Coast Guard captain seeking to unseat the incumbent, disagreed.

“The answer is to devolve the federal transportation department to the states. We have 50 transportation departments. We don’t need a federal transportation department because all we do is send money out there, and we get some of it back,” Halvorson said. “Leave it in Pennsylvania.”

Shuster barely defeated Halvorson in April’s Republican primary. To keep his challenge alive, Halvorson garnered support from constituents to put him on the ballot in the general election as a Democrat. Halvorson told Transport Topics he continues to represent Republican ideals despite running as a Democrat. Halvorson and Shuster support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Adam Sedlock is a Democratic write-in candidate challenging the Republicans.

Nearly every major transportation and freight group rejects devolution and advocates for a robust federal role in infrastructure construction.