Posts Tagged ‘Federal transportation funding’

Just 2 BUILD Grants Will Benefit Amtrak

November 17, 2019

Only two of the rail projects that recently received federal BUILD grants that were awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation will directly benefit Amtrak service.

Both involve Amtrak stations in Illinois.

A $14 million grant was awarded for building an underpass at the station in Normal, Illinois, that also serves nearby Bloomington.

The federal funds will pay for design and construction of a pedestrian, bicyclist, and passenger underpass and a second boarding platform at the station.

Normal is served by Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains as well as the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The other grant was $14 million for design and construction of a new multi-modal transportation center in downtown Carbondale.

That station will replace a modular facility Amtrak opened in the 1980s.

Carbondale is the southern terminus of Amtrak’s Illini and Saluki as well as an intermediate stop for the City of New Orleans, which operates between Chicago and New Orleans.

USDOT handed out $900 million in BUILD grants for 55 transportation-related infrastructure projects in 35 states,

Half of the funding went to projects in rural areas of the country and the lion’s share ($603 million) went to highway projects.

Rail projects received $48.3 million or 5 percent of the total. Transit projects received $84.6 million or 10 percent of the total.

Florida received the largest amount of grant funding followed by North Carolina, Maine, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi and Louisiana.

California received two grants while Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut received no grant funding.

Senate OKs FY2020 Transportation Funding

November 2, 2019

The U.S. Senate approved an amendment this week that blocked a 12 percent cut to transit agencies in fiscal year 2020.

The action came as the Senate also approved an appropriations bill that included funding for transportation programs including an increase in Amtrak funding.

The public transit cut would have amounted to $1.2 billion had it not been blocked.

Senator Martha McSally (R-Arizona), who sponsored the amendment to block the transit cuts with Doug Jones (D-Alabama), said the public transportation funding cuts would have been devastating to communities had they been adopted.

“These cuts could result in drastically reduced services, including those for low-income individuals and individuals with disabilities, and reduce funds necessary to modernize bus and rail fleets as well as slow construction of new stations and shelters,” she said during debate.

The spending bill funds transportation, housing and urban development, and related agencies.

The appropriations levels are similar to those adopted earlier by the House and the differences will now be need to be hammered out in a conference committee.

Because that process also involves reaching agreement on general spending figures for the budget as a whole, the reconciliation process may not be completed before the Nov. 21 expiration of a continuing resolution that is funding the federal government in FY2020.

Some congressional observers say Congress may need to adopt another continuing resolution in order to avoid a government shutdown.

In a related development, Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) acknowledged his committee has made no headway toward reaching an agreement on how to pay for increased spending outlined in the next generation of the federal surface transportation programs.

“There’s nothing new since we came back in September,” he told reporters in response to a question about funding a five year, $287 billion highway reauthorization proposal passed in August.

The Senate has yet to consider any proposals for mass transit or intercity rail funding.

Grassley said he has been unable to arrange a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to discuss the eventual size and pay-fors for a financing title.

Passage of the reauthorization bills may slide into 2020 or beyond.

Senate May Act on Transportation Spending Next Week

October 26, 2019

Senate approval of funding for Amtrak and other transportation agencies in fiscal year 2020 may come next week.

Leaders in the Senate are seeking to move a four-bill appropriations package that will increase Amtrak funding as approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in September.

In the process, the Senate leadership is seeking to limit the number of controversial amendments that could bog down passage of the spending bills.

Once the Senate passes the spending bills, a conference committee with the House will need to agree to changes acceptable to both chambers.

The proposed federal spending on transportation in the Senate bills is comparable to that of a House bill passed earlier.

But sticking points could occur over policy riders that were attached to the spending bills in both chambers.

The Rail Passengers Association reported that among these policy riders are provisions regarding replacement of Amtrak station agent positions that the carrier has already eliminated and improved relationships with private rail car owners.

Funding for FY2020 is currently authorized under a continuing resolution that will expire on Nov. 21.

Although Senate leaders say they might be able to win approval of spending bills before then, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) said that “unless a miracle happens around here with the House and the Senate, we will have to come forth with another CR.”

House leadership is pushing to keep any additional continuing resolution of short duration as a strategy to keep pressure on legislators to approve permanent appropriations bills.

Political Infighting May Doom Infrastructure Bill

October 8, 2019

Political fighting over the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump is likely to doom any chances for an infrastructure bill in the next year and may hinder passage of federal transportation funding for fiscal year 2020.

Some congressional leaders say that an infrastructure bill is unlikely to win approval let alone get much attention from Congress until after the 2020 presidential election.

However some believe Congress is still likely to act on a surface transportation authorization next year.

That includes Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who said last week that the reauthorization would move through the Senate next year and perhaps later this year.

“It probably won’t be as bold as the president was talking about because it would inevitably, if it were that bold, involve a whopping gasoline tax increase, which is very regressive, hits medium and low income people very hard,” McConnell said. “But we will do a transportation bill. It will be more along the size of a traditional every four or five year transportation bill.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters there is still hope for an infrastructure bill, saying the impeachment inquiry need not stall bipartisan work on an infrastructure package.

The current surface transportation authorization expires on Sept. 30, 2020, which means that without a new authorization the federal government will no longer be able to collect the gasoline tax.

That would end funding of highways and mass transit until the tax is reauthorized.

One congressional observer said the impeachment inquiry is not necessarily the major stumbling block to a transportation bill.

Marcia Hale, president of the bipartisan Building America’s Future said a more formidable barrier is the issue of raising the gasoline tax.

“The more plausible thing to expect is that there will be a series of extensions like we’ve been through before,” she said. “But, I don’t think it’s impossible to get this done.”

As for transportation funding, the impeachment fight some believe might limit the ability of the Senate to give final approval to a series of spending bills, including the transportation funding bill that has cleared a Senate committee.

That bill includes an increase in Amtrak funding as well as policy riders pertaining to the Hudson River rail tunnel Gateway project and other issues related to intercity passenger rail.

Some think that the FY2020 spending will be addressed through a series of continuing resolutions such as the one now in effect through Nov. 21.

There is even the prospect of a one-year continuing resolution.

The Rail Passengers Association said the latter would provide slightly lower levels for Amtrak but slightly higher levels for rail passenger transportation grants.

Committee Reportedly Agrees on Transportation Funding

September 14, 2019

News reports indicate that the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing has agreed on spending $74.3 billion for transportation and housing in federal fiscal year 2020.

The committee is expected to approve appropriation levels for transportation spending that march well with what the House has approved for spending.

“I’ve worked very closely with our ranking member, our staffs have worked very closely, and I expect at least at the subcommittee level, that everything will go smoothly,” said subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine). “You never know what’s going to come out of the full committee.”

She was referring to a mark-up session expected to be held soon at which specific funding levels and policy riders will be revealed.

However, observers expect the committee will seek to avoid controversy.

Congress is also said to be seeking a temporarily fix to avert $1.2 billion in cuts to the mass transit fund triggered by declining fuel tax revenue.

There are just two weeks left before FY2020 begins and Congress is widely expected to approve a continuing resolution to continue funding the federal government through late November.

Lawmakers have said in their public comments that they expect the continuing resolution to be clean, meaning that no riders will be tacked on to create political fights.

Legislators in both parties are suggesting that there is little risk of a government shutdown.

Senate Likely to be Late on Approving Budget

July 17, 2019

The Senate is not expected to approve federal transportation funding by the start of fiscal year 2020 meaning that funding will likely continue through a continuing resolution.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has acknowledged it likely will miss the Sept. 30 deadline to pass a FY2020 budget.

The House has already approved its own transportation spending plan for FY2020, which means that if the Senate adopts its own budget bill the differences will need to be reconciled in a conference committee.

Funding for Amtrak and public transit will go through a Senate subcommittee on appropriations headed by Senator Susan Collins of Maine who the Rail Passengers Association has described as a traditional strong supporter of Amtrak.

The Senate committee has yet to hold hearings on transportation funding.

RPA noted that the first of a series of surface transportation authorizations hearings centered on partisan differences over such things as climate change and how to shore up the sagging highway trust fund, but senators did seem to agree that there is a need to move reauthorization along to avoid short-term extensions.

Other authorizations that are facing Congress include those for intercity rail, public transit and revenue.

However, there are wide partisan divides on a number of issues and it remains to be seen if those can be bridged by Sept. 30, 2020, when current authorizations will expire.

House Approves Transportation Funding Bill

June 29, 2019

The House this week approved a $137.1 billion appropriation bill that includes funding for Amtrak and other transportation programs.

Amtrak would receive $700 million for its Northeast Corridor, $1.3 billion for the national network, $350 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants, and $350 million for Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants.

The Federal Railroad Administration would receive $3 billion and the Federal Transit Administration would get $13.5 billion.

The bill also states that Congress views the Gateway Project in the Northeast Corridor as a priority for federal investment, particularly the Hudson River rail tunnels and the Portal Bridge replacement.

Language was also placed in the bill requiring Capital Investment Grants for rail transit to be spent within a set time frame.

This mirrors language included in last year’s bill and reflects discontent with how the FTA has responded.

The latest language requires that if if transit grant funds aren’t distributed to new projects by Dec. 31, 2021, the FTA will be forced to redistribute that money to projects already in the engineering phase or face consequences.

Veto Threatened Over Transportation Funding

June 22, 2019

The Trump administration is threatening to veto a spending bill that contains an increase in Amtrak funding.

The Rail Passengers Association said the administration cited many disappointments about the bill, including its failure to eliminate Amtrak’s national network as the administration had proposed earlier this year.

The bill in question would fund programs for federal fiscal year 2020 which begins Oct. 1.

It increased funding for other transportation programs as well as Amtrak.

The administration also expressed displeasure with the funding bill for continuing to fund the California high-speed rail project and the Essential Air Service program.

RPA said the House is likely to approve the bill anyway because Democrats are in control.

The rail passenger advocacy group said that before a final House vote on the funding bill, a number of amendments are likely to be taken up including some that would slash transportation funding generally and Amtrak funding in particular.

More than 500 amendments have been submitted to the funding package.

Among them is a bid to cut transportation funding across the board by 14 percent, while another would direct U.S. DOT to adhere to a Congressional mandates that the federal government pay for 50 percent of costs in rail transit projects (compared to the 80 percent share it pays on highway projects).

The latter amendment was introduced after the administration began seeking to pay less than 50 percent on rail transit projects funded by the Capital Investment Grant program.

Another amendment would require Amtrak to follow the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act by giving advance notice when it intends to lay off employees.

Some Republican House members fell short in their effort to remove language preventing DOT from seeking to claw back federal funding from the California high-speed rail project when their amendments were ruled out of order.

House Committee Boosts Transportation Funding

June 6, 2019

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that will increase funding for public transportation and passenger in fiscal year 2020 by $16.2 billion.

The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Related Agencies bill provides $137.1 billion in total funding for a $6 billion increase above the 2019 enacted level and $17.3 billion above President Trump’s budget request,

Among the transportation funding highlights of the bill are:

• $1 billion for national infrastructure investments under the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program, a $100 million increase above the 2019 enacted level and equal to the president’s budget request.

• $3 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), $96 million above the 2019 enacted level and $877 million above the president’s budget request.

• $350 million for Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair, $50 million below the 2019 enacted level. The president’s budget request proposed eliminating this program;

• $2 billion for Amtrak, $50 million above the 2019 enacted level and $1.1 billion above the president’s budget request.

• $700 million for Northeast Corridor Grants, $50 million above the 2019 enacted level and $375 million above the president’s budget request.

• $1.3 billion for National Network Grants, equal to the 2019 enacted level and $681 million above the president’s budget request.

• $13.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, $60 million above the 2019 enacted level and $1.1 billion above the president’s budget request.

• $2.3 billion for Capital Investment Grants, equal to the authorized level, $251 million below the 2019 enacted level, and $797 million above the president’s budget request.

• $750 million for Transit Infrastructure Grants, $50 million above the 2019 enacted level and $250 million above the president’s budget request.

The bill also prohibits the Federal Railroad Administration from seeking to recover funds already provided to the California high-speed rail project and allocates the federal funding share for the Gateway tunnel project on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between New York and New Jersey.

Will Buses Replace Corridor Trains, Too?

March 17, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association said last week that the proposed Trump administration federal budget would not just eliminate long-distance trains it would also replace some corridor trains with subsidized bus service.

In a blog posting on the RPA website, the rail passenger advocacy group did not provide any details of the bus for train proposal, noting that the full budget will not be available until March 18 and many of the details are still unclear.

However, RPA said that federal transportation officials have signaled that they do not support using federal dollars for what they see as local responsibilities.

This includes the proposed new Hudson River rail tunnels. “Transit projects are local responsibilities, and elected officials from New York and New Jersey are the ones accountable for them,” said DOT Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Rosen.

The budget proposal released last week by the administration suggested that long-distance trains be replaced by buses.

At a House committee hearing last week Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner was asked about that and responded that the carrier is itself seeking to better understand the administration’s proposal.

However, Gardner told the committee that Amtrak wants to launch a series of new corridor services, noting that some of those corridors now exist within the confines of Amtrak’s long-distance network.

“There are a core set of long-distance routes which we think make sense in the future of the [national] network and for which federal support will be necessary,” he said.

“There are a number of routes which we do think have opportunity for expanded corridor service, and of course we today have, through the Section 209 of PRIIA, a strong partnership with states to support and fund corridor services.

“Many corridors exist today on long-distance routes, so there are opportunities to have corridors that today are served by long-distance trains served instead by corridor trains.”

One example of that would be Chicago-Twin Cities, which is part of the route of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Gardner acknowledged that creating these corridors will require a “strong partnership” among the states, the federal government and Amtrak.

Saying it would be a big transition to start adding those services, Gardner said he thought it would be “appropriate for Congress through reauthorization or your committee to look at the right partnership between the federal government and the states as part of the modernization of the network. There are clearly interests that are local, intrastate and national that would be served by such an improvement.”

Amtrak plans to seek the full $1.8 billion that it has been authorized under the FAST Act.

“But we’ll include a long list of things that we think are worthy of additional funding so we see really no shortage of things that require continued federal investment and partnership with our states,” Gardner said.

The budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 that the administration released last week proposed cutting $455.6 million from Amtrak and intercity rail programs.

It proposed allocating “$550 million in transitional grants for states to help pay for a restructuring of the Amtrak network.

The budget proposal includes $936 million in direct grants to Amtrak for the Northeast Corridor and existing State-supported lines.