Former Rep. James Oberstar, a 36-year Congressman whose encyclopedic knowledge of transportation helped shape generations of policy, died May 3 at his home in Potomac, Md.

Oberstar was 79. The cause of his death was not known, news accounts reported.

Oberstar was Minnesota’s longest-serving Representative and was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee from 2007 to 2011. In 2010 he lost his bid for reelection to Chip Cravaack, a Tea Party Republican. Cravaack lost his seat in 2012 to Democrat Rick Nolan.

Throughout his career in Congress Oberstar was a champion of transportation, pressing for reinvestment in infrastructure for the sake of safety and mobility.

In his farewell address to the T&I Committee in 2010, he said:

“So all of the history of this committee, and intertwined with it my service to Congress, has been for movement of people and goods safely, efficiently and effectively for the greater good of the nation. And in the process to aspire to have some of that same vision that those founding members of Congress had to understand that we needed investment in structures of transportation to maintain strong, healthy, growing, mobile economy.”

President Obama noted Oberstar’s commitment to infrastructure in a statement:

“Jim cared deeply about the people of Minnesota, devoting his 36 years of service to improving America's infrastructure, creating opportunity for hardworking Minnesotans, and building a strong economy for future generations of Americans.”

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the current chairman of the T&I Committee, said in a statement:

“Congress, Minnesota, and the nation have lost a good man who dedicated his life to public service and our country’s transportation system. 

“Jim Oberstar was respected and admired for his tireless advocacy for strengthening our infrastructure, first as a staffer, then as a Member, and finally as the Chairman of this Committee. 

“I believe transportation was truly in his blood, and few possessed his breadth of knowledge and passion for these issues he understood to be so important to America.  I will miss my good friend, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Oberstar’s first wife, the former Jo Garlick, died in 1991. He is survived by his wife, Jean, four children from his first marriage, two stepchildren and eight grandchildren and two brothers, the New York Times reported.