Federal Transportation Bill Wins Congressional OK

The $305 billion federal transportation bill won widespread approval in the House and Senate on Thursday and was expected to be signed by President Obama.

The legislation is an authorization of spending and actual spending measures must still be approved by the next Congress.

The 1,300-page bill authorizes $281 billion through the Highway Trust Fund and $24 billion through annual appropriations.

The bill increases highway spending by 15 percent by its final year and transit spending by 18 percent.

This includes $12 billion for mass transit, $10 billion for Amtrak and $1 billion for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration programs.

The bill was approved 359-65 in the House and 83-16 in the Senate.

The legislation includes policy provisions related to highway safety, railroads and road programs.

One provision changes a federal law limiting how much railroads can be forced to pay those hurt and families of those killed in rail accidents. The liability cap would increase to $295 million, up from $200 million.

The bill also includes $199 million to help commuter railroads install positive train control

Commuter railroads have said they have been unable to install PTC systems thus far due to tight budgets.

The money in the bill marks the first time the federal government has set money aside for PTC installation. However, that funding is a fraction of the expected total cost of $12 billion to install PTC.

Passenger railroads will be required to install inward-facing cameras to monitor crews.

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor’s budget will be split from that of its national network. The two would receive $2.6 billion and $5.5 billion respectively.

Congress chose not to increase the federal gas tax, which is now 18.4 cents per gallon.

It instead elected to take $19 billion from the Federal Reserve’s surplus funds and lower the dividend payments large banks receive from the Fed from 6 percent to 1.5 percent.

Another revenue source will come from private tax collection services being used to collect back payments on federal taxes under the legislation.

The bill authorizes the federal government to revoke the passports of those owing more than $50,000 in back taxes to the IRS.

The bill authorizes transportation spending for five years. The last time Congress passed a transportation funding bill lasting more than two years was in 2005.

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