U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, the House's heavyweight on transportation policy, planned to endorse an environmental group's report on public transit solutions Thursday.

But he missed the group's news conference -- he was stuck in Washington, D.C.'s notoriously gridlocked traffic.

Noting the irony, officials of the Environmental Defense Fund apologized about Oberstar's absence when they released the report on 45 transit projects nationwide, including Metro Transit's use of bus-only freeway shoulder lanes in the Twin Cities.

The report, which also highlights similar programs in 10 other states, said the projects can increase commuters' mobility without the crushing cost of new road construction.

The report is, in effect, an opening volley in what is expected to be a bruising battle later this year over reauthorization of the federal surface transportation bill.

As chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Oberstar, the dean of Minnesota's congressional delegation, will have a dominant role in shaping that bill.

The report also was endorsed by the director of the Federal Transit Administration, Matthew Welbes, who said it "will expand opportunities for transit and increase the pace of innovation."

Welbes mentioned accompanying Vice President Joe Biden to a bus factory in St. Cloud last month as proof that "we're already seeing investment in public transit."

The federal stimulus package includes more than $8 billion for public transportation, which is in addition to the $10 billion that comes from the transportation bill annually. In prepared remarks, Oberstar said the Environmental Defense Fund's report "makes the case that reinventing the transportation bill to fund transit innovations ... will deliver new jobs, new connections to jobs and economic development. ... Given our economic and environmental challenges, 'business as usual' transportation investments are not good enough."

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184