Former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Dies

Minnesota's longest-serving member of Congress, former U.S. representative Jim Oberstar, has died. He was 79.

A statement released by his family says Oberstar died Saturday morning in his sleep. No cause of death was provided.

Oberstar became chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in 2006.

"Congressman Jim Oberstar stands as one of the finest legislators the House has ever known — a man of vision, intellect, and energy with a record of service and accomplishment that spans five decades," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a statement Saturday.

Oberstar "knew everything there was to know about our nation's infrastructure, and fought tirelessly to rebuild and renew it," Pelosi said.

He was elected to Congress in 1974 and served 18 terms before he narrowly lost to GOP challenger Chip Cravaack in 2010.

“For more than 40 years, Jim combined an encyclopedic knowledge of intermodal transportation issues with a practical ability to forge consensus among parties with divergent perspectives," says American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President & CEO Pete Ruane. "The end result is a long, unmatched list of legislative achievements in the transportation arena.

“In the air, he fought for safer airline cabins, adequate emergency exits, and floor-proximity directional lighting.  On the ground, he was a driving force and author of historic federal highway, bridge, and public transportation investment laws in 1991, 1998 and 2005.  His goal always was to make travel in the U.S. more safe, efficient and accessible for all Americans," continues Ruane. “On a personal level, I was honored to have known Jim since 1972 and proud to call him a friend.  He was a kind and generous man with a booming laugh, had a strong commitment to his family, and an ability to keep you captivated with his story-telling.  The palpable sense of joy on his face when he talked about his children and grandchildren will not be forgotten.”

Oberstar is survived by his wife, Jean, four children and eight grandchildren.