Posts Tagged ‘FAST Act’

Senate Committee Introduces Surface Transportation Authorization Bill

June 16, 2021

Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation last week released details about a five-year surface transportation bill authorizing $78 billion for rail, freight, safety and research programs.

The legislation, which has bi-partisan support, is designed to accompany the $303.5 billion Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021.

The Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021 was introduced on the same day that a House Committee was marking up its own surface transportation authorization bill, the $547 billion INVEST in America Act.

Both House and Senate proposals are designed to replace the current Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which expires on Sept. 30.

The FAST Act originally expired in 2020 but was extended by Congress for a year.

If Congress fails to approve a new surface transportation authorization bill by Sept. 30, it will face a situation of having to approve another extension or passing one or more continuing resolution extending the current law.

Some congressional observers believe that based on how other surface transportation bills have fared it will be a year or longer before a new bill is enacted.

Among the provisions of the Senate’s most recently introduced bill is authorization of $36 billion for rail programs.

Passenger rail would receive $25 billion of that for intercity passenger rail service.

The committee said in a statement this level of funding “protects Amtrak’s critically important long-distance routes,” while also addressing the Northeast Corridor project capital improvements backlog and encouraging expansion of passenger rail corridors with state support.

Rail funding also includes more than $7.5 billion for rail safety and improvement projects, such as a new $500 million per year grant program to eliminate grade crossings as well as increased funding for the Consolidated Rail and Infrastructure Safety Improvement grant program.

The bill authorizes $28 billion for multi-modal freight investments, including an average of $1.2 billion a year for the Nationally Significant Multimodal Freight grant program.

Other authorizations include $1.5 billion for U.S. DOT’s BUILD/RAISE grant program and $2 billion for the creation of a new program to fund projects of “national significance.”

Safety programs would be authorized $13 billion, including $6 billion for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s highway safety programs; $4.6 billion for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s commercial vehicle programs; and $500 million to improve first responder planning and training for hazardous material incidents.

DOT would be authorized $1 billion for new and existing research and development programs.

The legislation also reauthorizes and makes reforms to USDOT agencies such as the Office of the Secretary; Federal Railroad Administration ; FMCSA; NHTSA; and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Hazardous Materials Programs.

More Details About Bill That Extends FAST Act, Enacts Stopgap Federal Funding for FY2021

September 24, 2020

As reported earlier, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act will extend the Fixing America’s Transportation Act for another year and keep federal funding flowing through Dec. 11.

The bill, which was approved by a large margin in the House and is expected to receive Senate approval and be signed by President Trump, had a few items of substance for intercity rail passenger service but excluded much of what many rail passenger advocates wanted.

By extending the surface transportation authorization for a year, it ensured that Amtrak and public transit, not to mention highway construction funding, would continue.

Amtrak is expected to receive through December a prorated share of what it was appropriated in fiscal year 2020.

That means $138 million for the Northeast Corridor and $256.4 million for the national network.

The bill also eliminates a requirement that Amtrak food and beverage service make a profit.

The so-called “Mica Provision” was a legacy of former House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair John Mica who often railed against the cost of Amtrak’s food and beverage service.

However, Amtrak’s plans to reduce the operation of most long-distance trains to three times a week are not expected to be halted by the legislation.

The Rail Passengers Association wrote on its website that passenger rail largely was shut out by the bill, which it described as protecting the status quo.

The legislation also transfers $3.2 billion in general funds to the Mass Transit Account, which ensure the Federal Transit Agency will be able to process grants to transit agencies.

It also halted a $6 billion across-the-board cut of transit formula funds by eliminating the Rostenkowski Test in FY2021.

But RPA noted that extending the existing FAST Act for a year means there will not be a dedicated passenger rail trust fund and that authorizations for Amtrak funding for FY2021 remain at FY2020 levels.

RPA noted that without higher authorizations it would be unlikely that Amtrak would receive the $5 billion in funding for FY2021 that it sought.

That is the amount the passenger carrier said it needed to continue operating most long-distance trains on daily schedules.

Amtrak’s original funding request for FY2021 had been just over $2 billion.

In its post, RPA said the legislation failed to resolve any of the questions raised by Amtrak’s plan for tri-weekly service and made no changes to the service return metrics that Amtrak has established for a return to daily service next year.

The legislation also transfers $10.4 billion in general funds to the Highway Trust Fund and transfers $14 billion in general funds to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

Amtrak’s FY2021 funding will be hammered out later this year, probably in the lame duck session of Congress after the November elections.

Congress Eyes Stop Gap Funding Bill That is Expected to Extend FAST Act for a Year

September 17, 2020

Congress is expected to take up next week a continuing resolution that would enable the federal government to stay open past the expiration of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The bill is also expected to contain a one-year extension of the surface transportation law, known as the FAST Act, which also expires at the end of this month.

News reports from Washington have indicated that the length of time the continuing resolution would cover has yet to be determined.

Some members of the House and Senate have favored a mid-December expiration date while some Democrats have pushed for an expiration date of next February.

Leadership of both parties is said to be in favor of a one-year extension of the FAST Act and neither party wants to see a government shutdown.

Extension of the FAST Act would be needed to continue payments to Amtrak, public transit and highway fuel tax money for road construction projects.

Some transportation trade groups have sought to use the extension of the FAST Act as an opportunity to increase the amount of money authorized for transportation programs.

A coalition led by the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials, and the American Public Transportation Association is seeking $37 billion and $32 billion, respectively.

The Rail Passengers Association has called for Amtrak to receive $5 billion.

Although the House earlier approved on a mostly party line vote a spending plan for fiscal year 2021, the Senate has not acted and has yet to even release its spending proposals.

The House also approved its version of a new surface transportation authorization bill, but the Senate has not acted on its own proposal.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have called for a “clean” CR that extends spending at fiscal year 2020 levels but generally excludes non-appropriations provisions.

That might appear to rule out an extension of the FAST Act, but lawmakers have noted that they are willing to extend authorizations for critical programs that are expiring this fall.

The Office of Management and Budget has sent Congress a list of more than 60 such expiring programs, two of which involve health care.

Pelosi told reporters on Sept. 10 that a continuing resolution would not include any COVID-19 pandemic emergency funding.

If that stands, it would mean including such funding for Amtrak, public transit and other transportation-related programs will fall by the wayside although it could be considered in a separate pandemic aid relief bill.

Action on such legislation has stalled amid partisan bickering with Senate and House leaders on both sides have signaled that emergency pandemic relief is unlikely to be approved before the November elections.

House Passes Surface Transportation Bill

July 3, 2020

The U.S. House this week passed a five year reauthorization of surface transportation programs.

H.R. 2, which was named the Moving Forward Act, authorizes spending of $1.5 trillion on various transportation-related programs, including Amtrak.

The legislation approves $500 billion to reauthorize surface transportation programs and funding for infrastructure projects.

That includes $105 billion for public transportation and $60 billion for commuter rail, Amtrak and other high-performance rail service.

The bill has received mixed reviews from railroad trade associations because of various mandates that railroads generally oppose.

H.R. 2 faces considerable opposition in the Senate, which is expected to adopt its own surface transportation reauthorization bill with differences to be worked out in a conference committee.

The current surface transportation law, known as the FAST Act, will expire on Sept. 30.

Aside from specific transportation programs, H.R. 2 also authorizes $130 billion for schools, $100 billion for rural broadband and $100 billion for affordable housing.

Infrastructure Plan Might be Out by May

March 15, 2019

If its members can agree on funding, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee might report an infrastructure bill by May.

 “I know May is probably a little ambitious, but that’s our goal,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, the ranking member of the subcommittee on highways and transit.

Among the funding options committee members are eying are raising the gas tax and a new vehicle-miles traveled tax to capture revenue from electric vehicles.

Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-California, has suggested creation of a federal infrastructure bank “that will provide low interest loans to states and municipalities so that they can build.”

Aside from agreement on funding, another source of delay could be work on reauthorizing the FAST Act, which expires in 2020.

Some believe that getting that reauthorization as well as an infrastructure plan through Congress in the current session of Congress could be a tall order.

If the infrastructure bill is completed by May the odds increase that both pieces of legislation could be addressed separately.

Amtrak VP Thinks Status Quo Will Prevail

April 4, 2017

An Amtrak executive believes that once the dust settles in Congress the status quo will prevail at Amtrak, meaning that the long-distance trains the Trump administration wants to stop funding will continue to operate.

Amtrak Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner told the Future Railway Organisation seminar on March 29 that he had little immediate cause for concern over the future of its network.

Gardner noted that previous administrations has proposed zeroing out Amtrak, but Congress has never gone along with those plans.

The Trump “skinny budget” would continue to fund Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and state corridor trains paid for largely by states that they serve. But funding of long-distance passenger trains would end.

“The cost and logistical complexity of removing these trains would be prohibitive, we feel,” he said. “There is a reason that they have survived through recent decades.”

Gardner said the long-distance trains play an important role in serving intermediate markets and said any attempt to “go back in” in the future would cost at least $1 billion.

Noting that in 2015 Amtrak was included in the FAST surface transportation bill approved by legislation passed in Congress, that gives the national rail passenger carrier a greater degree of
institutional stability.

“The most likely outcome is that the status quo will prevail,” Gardner said.

Gardner said Amtrak is supportive of a private sector inter-city  passenger services in Florida known as Brightline and the planned Texas Central high speed project.

“Naturally , we see that as an endorsement of the rail mode, and we welcome the addition of services able to showcase the latest in rail technology,” he said.

Let the Posturing Begin: Trade Groups Jockey for Influence in Wake of New Regime in Washington

March 31, 2017

With a new administration in Washington promising a renewed focus on transportation infrastructure the posturing from trade groups representing various segments of the railroad industry is in full swing.

The American Public Transportation Association is seeking to lobby Congress to fully fund the FAST Act for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 as well as include public transit in any infrastructure development plan.

The Association of American Railroads is seeking to caution the administration against taking too hostile of a stance on foreign trade by pointing out that at least 42 percent of rail traffic and more than 35 percent of annual rail revenue are directly tied to international trade.

APTA is reacting to the “skinny budget” proposed by President Donald Trump earlier this year that slashed funding for capital grants used by public transit.

In particular the Trump budget would greatly reduce the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants, TIGER grants and Amtrak funding.

APTA said it has conducted more than 60 meetings with congressional staff, focusing on those that serve on budget, appropriations, tax and authorization committees, and taken other proactive steps to engage with members of Congress.

It also has called on its members to meet with their members of Congress when they are on spring break in their home districts April 8-23.

As for the AAR, it released a report saying that 50,000 domestic rail jobs accounting for more than $5.5 billion in annual wages and benefits depend directly on international trade. Those numbers would be higher if rail traffic indirectly associated with trade is included.

AAR fears that the Trump administration might make policy changes that would adversely affect the global economy.

“Efforts that curtail overall trade would threaten thousands of U.S. freight-rail jobs that depend on it and limit essential railroad revenues used to modernize railroad infrastructure throughout North America,” said AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger.

The AAR report examined rail movements using data from the 2014 Surface Transportation Board Waybill Sample, other government data and information from U.S. ports and Google Earth.

This included movements of coal for export from ports in Maryland, Virginia, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes; paper and forest products imported from Canada into the Midwest, as well as paper products exported from the southern United States; imports and exports of Canadian and Mexican automotive products to and from auto factories in dozens of U.S. states; containers of consumer goods from Asia coming ashore in California, Washington, Georgia, Virginia and New Jersey; plastics shipped by rail from Texas and Louisiana to the East and West coasts for export to Europe and Asia; iron ore mined in Minnesota and shipped by rail to Great Lakes ports; and Midwest-grown grain carried by rail to the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf Coast for export.

White House Seeks Amtrak ‘Anomaly’ Funding

September 6, 2016

President Obama is requesting a full year of government funding for Amtrak in fiscal year 2017 as part of a list of “anomalies” proposed for a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating after the 2016 fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

Amtrak logoThe Obama Administration is seeking $1.39 billion for Amtrak.

The reason for the request is due to Amtrak’s planned transition to a new accounting structure that is required by the 2015 FAST Act.

Rail passenger advocates say that if the Amtrak funding is approved it would put Amtrak on more solid financial ground but delay by a year any funding of the FAST Act’s passenger rail grant programs.

Passenger train advocates are seeking approval for funding of the new programs that have already been agreed to by House and Senate appropriations committees.