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Federal transportation building could be named after Jim Oberstar

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Jim Oberstar, the former U.S. representative called a "true Minnesota legend" and "public servant of epic stature," died May 3. But a new proposal would etch the Chisholm native's name into a federal building as a reminder of his legacy.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., introduced a bill last week that would name a Department of Transportation building the "James L. Oberstar United States Department of Transportation Building Complex."

The structure, located at 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE in Washington, D.C., is currently known as the Department of Transportation headquarters.

There are 19 cosponsors, included in which are all eight of Minnesota's U.S. representatives.

While in office, Oberstar earned a reputation as a leader of transportation policy. For six years (1989-1995) he chaired the Subcommittee on Aviation, then later became the ranking Democrat on the full Transportation Committee. In 2007, he was elected chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

When Oberstar lost his Eighth Congressional District seat to Rep. Chip Cravaack in 2010, Lipinski offered the National Journal's Transportation Experts Blog a heartfelt farewell.

"As we look forward, it is clear that no one can replace Jim Oberstar," it said. "His life is dedicated to the advancement of transportation in America and he excels at his craft, possessing leadership, experience, and knowledge that is second to none. The Transportation and Infrastructure committee has lost a giant, but I trust the transportation community has not lost him as well."

When Oberstar died, Lipinski described him as "both a friend and a mentor."

Hundreds attended Oberstar's funeral on May 8.

Among the dignitaries who came to pay their respects were U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and Duluth Mayor Don Ness. More than a dozen House members were also there, including Minnesota Democrats Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan.

Transportation Legacy

Oberstar, Minnesota’s longest-serving member of Congress, was a champion of transportation.

He represented the state’s Eighth Congressional District for 36 years, from 1974-2010, and during that time he became adept at steering millions of federal dollars toward public infrastructure projects in his district and throughout Minnesota.

He was elected chairman of the House Transportation Committee in 2007, and became known as an advocate of “intermodality,” the idea of linking highway, air and rail systems with urban buses, subways and bike paths.

And the result of that philosophy can be seen throughout northeastern Minnesota, in the various projects that Oberstar championed during his tenure. See a list of some of the projects here.

In the aftermath of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, 2007, Oberstar ensured rapid passage of $250 million in federal money to quickly build a replacement bridge. The funding was approved by both houses of Congress and signed by President George W. Bush in less than a week.

Afterward, Oberstar continued to push for more funding to repair and replace failing bridges.

Former State Rep. Tony Sertich, who calls Oberstar one of his mentors, summed up his influence neatly in this comment, saying, “you can’t travel anywhere in Minnesota, but especially northeastern Minnesota, be it on a road or a bridge or a bike path, that Jim Oberstar didn’t help get there.”

Oberstar was the son of a Chisolm, Minnesota, miner. He is survived by his wife, Jean, and their six children — Ted, Noelle, Annie, Monica, Lindy and Charlie.

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