Posts Tagged ‘transportation infrastructure spending’

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.

Trying Again for an Infrastructure Plan

May 1, 2019

The Trump administration and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have reached an agreement in theory about at $2 trillion infrastructure plan.

However, the sides have yet to agree on how that plan would be funded. The agreement announced this week said Congress and the administration will work toward winking approval of the transportation infrastructure package.
Congressional leaders and President Trump plan to meet at an undisclosed time to discuss the administration’s ideas for paying for the infrastructure plan.

The administration released an infrastructure plan more than a year ago that won little support in Congress.

Critics noted that that plan relied heavily on state and local governments funding much of it.

Infrastructure Funding Getting Fresh Look in Congress

February 14, 2019

Senate and House committees have begun to review legislation to provide additional transportation infrastructure.

Last week the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held its first hearing on infrastructure needs.

Among those testifying was Amtrak President Richard Anderson.

The Senate Commerce Committee convened a hearing this week with a similar focus.

Some believe that the need to extend the expiring Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act will serve as an impetus to prod Congress into adopting an infrastructure program.

The law, which expires on Sept. 30, 2020, provides grants and loans for transportation programs.

Another sense of urgency is the condition of the Highway Trust Fund, which is flirting with insolvency.

Funded by the federal gas tax, that has been declining and Congress has diverted $144 billion from general funds since 2008 to keep the HTF going.

The Congressional Budget Office projects the HTF will exhaust its funds in 2021.

Congress has been split on how to infuse cash into the HTF. Some have favored an increase in the gas tax, which has not risen since 1993.

But others are calling for other measures, such as a tax on vehicle miles traveled.

The Trump administration last year suggested raising the gas tax by 25 cents, which might be an indication that the political pressure against raising it is abating.

New Congress, Old Priorities for Rail Industry

February 12, 2019

It may be a new Congress, but the railroad industry is continuing to push old priorities in Washington.

An analysis by Progressive Railroading magazine said among the priorities are a permanent extension of the 45G short-line tax credit, keeping existing truck size and weight restrictions, and approval of an infrastructure package that includes funding priority for freight and passenger rail.

How much the industry is able to get done is an open question given that the House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans.

Some railroad industry lobbyists say an environment of hyper partisanship combined with hard feelings lingering from the recent 35-day federal government shutdown will make it a challenge to create agreement on transportation policy.

Yet some are optimistic that an infrastructure plan might be a rare example of bi-partisan agreement, in part by trying to portray it as good for urban and rural communities.

The Rail Passengers Association is seeking to prod Congress into address the on-time woes of Amtrak trains by creating a a charter for a Shared-Use Corridor Advisory Committee to develop new “mutually satisfactory solutions” on Amtrak’s shared use of rail routes with its host railroads.

The committee would be similar to the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee and use a collaborative approach to find mutually agreeable solutions to safety regulatory issues.

Although most of industry’s legislative priorities have been around awhile, some new matters the industry is overseeing include discussing the potential regulation of precision scheduled railroading and automation.

“A huge amount of education is needed,” said Chuck Baker, the new president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

“A lot of these new members are interested in infrastructure, so we think we’ll have a friendly playing field,” he said.

The Association of American Railroads expects the trucking industry to again seek to get Congress to increase the weight and size limit of trucks.

AAR is calling for what it termed “reasonable” limits on truck size on interstate highways of 80,000 pounds in weight and no more than two 28-foot trailers in total length.

The trucking industry has been seeking to increase these limits through the use of pilot programs to test larger trucks.

The rail industry fears that these programs could lead to higher limits being made permanent at the national level.

An infrastructure program, though, lies at the top of legislative priorities.

Railroad interests are hoping for an infrastructure package coupled with reauthorization of the

Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015, which is set to expire in September 2020.

The reauthorization is expected to include funding for Amtrak and the Gateway/Hudson River tunnel projects in New York.

Lawmakers are also expected to debate funding of the Highway Trust Fund and its Mass Transit Account with those discussions focused in part on whether to increase the federal tax on gasoline that motorists pay at the pump.

Other funding alternatives for the HTF that are expected to be discussed include a general sales tax, a vehicle miles traveled fee and a per-barrel tax on crude oil.

Jim Mathews, president of RPA, said his group wants Congress to look at a variety of funding options, including a passenger-rail trust fund. “We think it’s about time that we had a predictable, dedicated source of funding for passenger rail,” he said.

Anderson Urges Funding for NEC Infrastructure

February 10, 2019

Amtrak President Richard Anderson doesn’t like to give interviews to news reporters or make many speeches in which he illustrates his vision of Amtrak.

He gave, though a glimpse of that last week during a congressional hearing infrastructure.

Anderson told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee “there are changes we need to make in our network and the way we do business to modernize from a ‘70s railroad to a railroad that will meet the demand of Millennials today.”

Anderson said that means meeting the demand that “is clearly there for additional short corridor service throughout the U.S, [including] both additional frequencies for existing routes and establishing new routes between city pairs.”

Anderson also addressed the future of Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops near Indianapolis.

After saying the carrier had no plans to close the facility or reduce its workforce, Anderson said, “but as we go down that process we have to be very mindful of its impact on our people.”

Anderson said Amtrak maintains equipment at several facilities, some of which it is in the process of rebuilding.

This includes facilities in Seattle; Oakland, California; New York (Sunnyside Yard); and Washington (Ivy City Engine Terminal).

“Over time, we have to re-fleet the Amtrak rolling stock,” Anderson said, “ . . . and over the longer term we have to figure out where we are going to do our maintenance work.

“I think the footprint is going to change over time because we’re moving to more modern equipment.”

Much of Anderson’s testimony focused on the need to rebuild bridges and tunnels in the Northeast Corridor.

Anderson warned that the failure of this infrastructure near New York “would effectively shut down economic activity in Manhattan” and “cut off (rail travel) from Maine to North Carolina and down to Florida.”

Saying the federal government has never had “an appetite to invest in the infrastructure up and down the Northeast Corridor,” Anderson said the Baltimore tunnels were dedicated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1873.

“That’s typical of what we see in the Corridor, the spine of the Northeast,” Anderson said.

Amtrak has plans in place for such projects as replacement of the Portal Bridge in New Jersey and the North River tunnels under the Hudson River.

“There’s an inevitability that this is going to get built,” Anderson said. “So why [do] we spend all this time gyrating around? It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue, it’s an American issue, and what we ought to do is just fund it.”

The purpose of the hearing at which Anderson spoke was described by Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio of Oregon as an opportunity to sound “the alarm bells” for why investing in the nation’s transportation infrastructure can’t wait.

Passenger rail was not the only infrastructure need discussed. Committee members also called for investment in highways, waterways, ports, and airports.

Projects to Benefit Amtrak Routes

February 9, 2019

Amtrak stands to benefit from some of the railroad improvement  projects that recently won federal grant funding.

The Federal Railroad Administration said this week that it will award more than $56 million in grants, covering 18 projects in 16 states as part of the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program.

In Florida, the installation of supplemental safety features at 48 grade crossings will benefit the Virgin Trains USA route between West Palm Beach and Miami.

Officials said the work is expected to cut the number of grade-crossing violations by keeping motorists and pedestrians from trespassing as trains approach.

Amtrak’s Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle will see a trip time reduction of three minutes due to a reconfiguration of the Lenox Interlocking in Mitchell, Illinois, located 16 miles northeast of St. Louis.

The project is expected to provide operating flexibility at a junction of four rail lines used by six railroads operating 46 trains per day.

In St. Louis, funding was awarded to replace the Broadway Truss of the Terminal Railway Association of St. Louis’ MacArthur Bridge across the Mississippi River.

The bridge is more than 100 years old and serves as the nation’s second longest railroad bridge. The work will work will increase horizontal clearance of the bridge, which is used by Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle.

In New York, replacement of timber bridge decks with ballast decks on three bridges on the Hudson Line in Dutchess and Columbia counties will eliminate current speed restrictions and allow for future 110-mph operation.

Twenty-six Amtrak trains per day use these bridges, including the Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf, Ethan Allen Express, Adirondack and Empire Service trains.

Work will be performed in Vermont to stablize slopes along an 80-mile section of the New England Central Railroad used by Amtrak’s Vermonter.

The project will lead to the elimination of slow orders that have resulted in 216 hours of annual passenger delays and 520 hours of freight delays as well as decreasing safety risks.

A second second platform, elevator towers, and an overhead pedestrian bridge will be built at the Milwaukee Airport Amtrak station, allowing passenger trains to use both tracks and ease congestion resulting from the current single-track configuration for passenger service.

The station is used by Hiawatha Service trains.

Infrastructure Plan Being Talked About Again

December 10, 2018

Since Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the November 2016 election, rumors and speculation have abounded about another attempt to pass an infrastructure stimulus program.

The Rail Passengers Association reported last week that the Democratic takeover of the house might lead to a bipartisan agreement with the Trump Administration.

The administration floated a plan early this year would have required cities and states to provide at least 80 percent of the funding for infrastructure projects, but that plan failed to gain traction in Congress.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), who is expected to become the next chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, reportedly has told the administration that any infrastructure plan must  have “ . . . real money, real investment … [and] it needs to be done soon… This isn’t going to get done without support from the president.”

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is chair of an appropriations subcommittee that helps set funding levels for existing federal programs for roads, bridges and railroads expressed a similar sentiment, saying she is open to striking a deal.

An unnamed source said President Donald Trump is considering spending “buckets of money” on an infrastructure plan in advance of the 2020 election, which suggests he might be willing to strike a deal with House Democrats.

Infrastructure Plan to be Revealed Today

February 12, 2018

The long-awaited Trump administration infrastructure plan will be revealed today and despite the $1.5 trillion benefits being touted by the president it is expected to provide a modest $200 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years.

The plan is already facing opposition in Congress from conservative Republicans who think the price tag is too high and Democrats who think it is not enough.

Aside from being designed to bolster infrastructure spending, the plan also is designed to change the nature of the funding relationship between state and local governments, and the federal government.

For decades, infrastructure projects have received large chunks of funding from federal money.

But the Trump infrastructure proposal would limit the federal share to 20 percent of a project’s cost.

Critics contend the plan will also encourage a wave of toll roads and bridges to pay for some road projects.

Also expected to be in the proposal is a relaxation of environmental rules surrounding infrastructure plans. The administration wants to reduce the time needed for an environmental review to no more than two years.

Trump has acknowledged that the $200 billion in federal aid is not a large amount and has also spoke of paying for the plan by making unspecified budget cuts elsewhere.

A White House official told reporters during a briefing on Saturday about the proposal that Trump’s infrastructure plan isn’t an all or nothing thing.

“This is the start of a negotiation — bicameral, bipartisan negotiation — to find the best solution for infrastructure in the U.S.,” the official said.

The official said Trump “is open to new sources of funding.” However, he downplayed an increase in the gasoline tax as has been proposed by some, including House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Schuster and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The funding from the infrastructure plan would not be limited to transportation projects.

It would fund such things as broadband in rural areas and aim to encourage apprenticeships and other forms of workforce training as well as pay for unspecified “transformative,” “next-century-type” projects that would “lift the American spirit,” a White House official said.

What is to be released today is a statement of principles that Congress will work into legislation.

That means the proposal will be overseen by 11 House and Senate committees, all of which are likely to have their own visions for what the infrastructure plan should and shouldn’t be.

The administration is planning to hold a briefing with state and local officials this morning and to engage in a campaign on behalf of the plan from Trump and members of his cabinet.

Cabinet members are expected to fan out across the country to talk about infrastructure needs.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has said the backlog of needed infrastructure projects amounts to $4.59 trillion in needed investments by 2025.

Senate, Chao Talk About Infrastructure Plan

January 10, 2018

Talks between members of the U.S. Senate and the Trump administration about the latter’s proposed infrastructure package were held this week on Capitol Hill, although few details of those discussions have been released.

Speaking for the administration was Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who was joined by other administration officials.

Although news media reports have said the infrastructure plan is expected to be $1 trillion, some recent reports have put the size of the package at a lower figure, perhaps no more than $200 million.

There has been speculation that the package will be rolled out in the coming weeks, probably after the state of the union address on Jan. 30.

Senator John Barrasso, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in a statement that the meeting featured “a direct back-and-forth with administration leadership on their priorities.”

Senator Tom Carper, the ranking minority party member of the committee, said in a statement that, “While there is no shortage of issues on which the president and I disagree, the kind of large scale trillion-dollar infrastructure investment that then-candidate Trump talked about is something that has the potential to elicit bipartisan support here in Congress.”

More than 150 national trade organizations, including some in the railroad and railroad supply industries, have urged Congress to approve an infrastructure investment package.

GOP at Odds Over Infrastructure Plan

January 9, 2018

Republicans appear to be at odds over a much talked about but yet to be revealed infrastructure revitalization plan from the Trump administration.

Administration officials said that during a parley between President Trump and congressional GOP leaders at Camp David last weekend that Trump told the legislators that he does not believe that public-private partnerships work for all infrastructure projects.

Yet some members of the administration argued during the meetings for public-private partnerships.

The Washington Post reported that National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn gave a presentation focused solely on public-private partnerships.

He reportedly said that a proposal by entrepreneur Elon Musk to create an underground high-speed transportation corridor between New York and Washington “won’t cost the taxpayers anything” because the private sector will build it.

Cohn has at times called for raising the Federal gasoline tax to fund infrastructure, but it is not clear if he discussed this at Camp David.

In the meantime, some legislators are pushing their own proposals.

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, proposed diverting some $2 billion in foreign aid that Trump is withholding from Pakistan, to use in “building bridges and railroads” in the United States.

Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican who is chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has stood up for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Gateway Project.

He said “it will be the committee’s responsibility to see that such national priorities are met.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently asserted that a 50-50 agreement between the federal government and states of New Jersey and New York to split funding a rail tunnel project into New York City does not exist.

DOT described the proposed $29 billion project as “a project of 90 percent local significance.”