Posts Tagged ‘Federal transportation funding’

FY2020 Budget Boosts Amtrak, Cuts Public Transit Grants

December 22, 2019

The $1.4 trillion federal fiscal year 2020 spending bill contains a boost in Amtrak funding, but also slashes some spending for public transit and railroad grant programs.

President Donald J. Trump signed the two budget bills late Friday that were adopted by Congress earlier in the week.

The budget appropriates $2 billion for Amtrak, an increase of $58 million over the FY2019 budget.

However, the budget cut rail and transit programs by 3.6 percent, a drop of $586 million, below FY2019 levels.

The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Grants received $325 million, an increase of $70 million over FY2019.

However, the Federal State of Good Repair program was cut in half compared to FY2019 levels to $200 million for FY2020. It had received $400 million last year.

Public transportation received $12.9 billion in total. Although the transit formula grants increased from $9.9 billion in FY2019 to $10.1 billion in FY2020, the Capital Investment Grants program saw its funding plunge from $2.5 billion in FY2019 to $1.9 billion in FY2020.

The investment grants program is used to launch new rail services.

Amtrak funding will be broken down to $1.2 billion for the national network and $650 million for the Northeast Corridor.

The bill earmarks $100 million for help pay for the acquisition of new single-level passenger equipment to replace aging Amfleet equipment used in Amtrak’s NEC, state-supported and long-distance services.

The Rail Passengers Associated noted in an analysis posted on its website that the budget bill contains a number of policy statements favorable to intercity passenger rail.

That includes a statement of the sense of Congress that long-distance passenger rail routes and services should be sustained to ensure connectivity throughout the National Network.

The bill also directed the Federal Railroad Administration to count state acquisition costs and ongoing capital charges related to Amtrak’s new fleet to as a local match for any future applications to the CRISI or SOGR grant programs.

Amtrak was directed to provide a station agent in each Amtrak station that had a ticket agent position eliminated in fiscal year 2018 and was told to provide a report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, no later than 120 days after enactment of the budget describing the changes initiated or implemented to Food and Beverage services in FY2019 and comparing those savings with Amtrak projections.

The spending bill directed Amtrak to submit a comprehensive workforce analysis for the Amtrak Police Department.

The passenger carrier was prohibited from using funds from the bill to reduce the total number of Amtrak Police Department uniformed officers patrolling on board passenger trains or at stations, facilities or rights-of-way below the staffing level on May 1, 2019.

Progress Reported on FY2020 Transportation Funding Bill

December 10, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association reported last week that Congress is making progress toward reaching an agreement for fiscal year 2020 transportation appropriations.

Congress faces a Dec. 20 deadline to get budgets for FY2020 approved. A continuing resolution funding the federal government in the absence of approved appropriations expires on that date.

RPA did not provide many details about the transportation budget deal other than to say that leaders of the appropriations committees in the House and Senate have agree on top-line numbers for transportation spending.

That funding includes a boost for Amtrak spending.

Reportedly, the transportation spending bill will be among the earliest budget bills to be voted on by Congress.

Congressional leaders were said to be working on 12 separate appropriations bills that need to be passed before the continuing resolution expires.

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.