Posts Tagged ‘Federal transportation funding’

USDOT OIG Outlines Challenges Agency Faces in Allocating Funding From Infrastructure Program

October 13, 2022

Three major challenges face the U.S. Department of Transportation as it implements the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the agency’s Office of Inspector General said.

In a memo to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, USDOT Inspector General Eric Soskin said the challenges will affect how DOT allocates $1.2 trillion in infrastructure projects authorized by the law approved by Congress in November 2021.

  • USDOT needs to effectively identify, assess and develop plans to mitigate risks to achieving its goals, particularly the heightened risk of fraud;
  • The department needs to recruit, develop and retain the necessary workforce to implement and oversee IIJA programs while also effectively coordinating with key stakeholders to overcome their immediate administrative challenges; and
  • The department needs to enhance and, in some cases, establish effective and efficient processes for awarding and administering IIJA grants and overseeing grantees’ compliance with federal requirements.

The infrastructure bill authorized $660 billion in funding for new and existing federal transportation programs and is expected to be implemented through fiscal-year 2026.

The memo said that $383 billion is reserved for contract authority — specified amounts that the department can expend in each of the years covered by the law — while $184 billion is designated for USDOT program appropriations.

Rail-related objectives of the allocations include paying for 15,000 new subway cars, buses and ferries and one year for investment in 75 new “Made-in-America” locomotives and at least 73 intercity trainsets to be used by Amtrak.

Federal Transportation Spending to Continue Through December 16

October 1, 2022

Federal transportation funding will continue through Dec. 16 after Congress passed a short-term budget extension.

The action was needed because Congress has not yet approved budgets for federal fiscal year 2023, which begins Oct. 1.

Also known as a continuing resolution, the extension continues funding Amtrak and other transportation programs at existing levels.

It is common for Congress to be unable to agree on budget bills by the Sept. 30 deadline. In some instances, federal funding has continued through a series of continuing resolutions.

Senate Bill Would Increase Amtrak Funding

August 1, 2022

A Senate committee last week released a proposed federal fiscal year 2023 appropriations bill for transportation spending, including Amtrak funding.

The passenger carrier would receive $2.6 billion, a $269 million increase over the current fiscal year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is proposing $2.51 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program; $200 million for the Federal-State Partnership for State-of-Good-Repair for the replacement, rehabilitation, and repair of intercity passenger rail infrastructure; and $535 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement program.

The Senate proposal provides higher Amtrak funding levels than a recently approved House budget bill but would grant $355 million less than what the House approved for the federal-state partnership program.

Whereas the House approved $882 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the Senate bill contains $1,135,000. The House approved $1,463,000 for Amtrak’s network whereas the Senate bill would appropriate $,465,000.

Neither the House budget bill nor the Senate proposal contains any funding for passenger rail restoration and enhancement grants. Both chambers also omitted funding for railroad grade crossing elimination projects.

Both programs received no funding in FY2022 although the grade crossing program was authorized to receive up to $500 million and the restoration and enhancement program was authorized to receive $50 million.

In FY2022, Congress approved $875 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and $1,457,000 for the national network.

None of the spending bill amounts include money approved in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is allocated separately from annual appropriations.

In a related development, the proposed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 introduced in the Senate omits funding for high-speed rail programs.

Earlier drafts of the bill contained $10 billion in dedicated funding for electrified high-speed rail.

The Rail Passengers Association noted in a report on its website that much of the focus in the energy bill is funding the transition to electric automobiles, which RPA described as “another in a long line of subsidies for highways.”

FY2023 Spending OKed by House Committee

July 5, 2022

Federal fiscal year 2023 appropriations legislation for transportation continued last week to make its way through the House.

The House Committee on Appropriations moved the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill to the House floor where it is expected to be considered later this month.

The THUD bill as it is known provides a 23 percent increase in discretionary spending for transit and passenger and freight rail.

The appropriations made no major changes in funding levels approved recently by the transportation subcommittee of the appropriations committee.

That committee approved $2.3 billion in Amtrak funding, which fell short of the $3 billion recommended by the Biden administration and the $3.3 billion sought by the passenger carrier.

Once approved by the House the THUD bill will move to the Senate. FY2023 begins on Oct. 1. In recent years, the Senate has failed to meet the deadline, which has necessitated a series of stopgap spending bills until final action was taken.

Committee OKs Transportation Funding Bill

June 27, 2022

A congressional committee last week approved a bill that provide a 23 percent increase in discretionary spending for public transit, and passenger and freight railroads in federal fiscal year 2023.

The Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill was approved by the transportation subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on a voice vote.

The bill is expected to be considered this week by the full Appropriations Committee, which wants to clear spending bills before the July 4th recess.

It would then move to the Senate. The 2023 federal fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

Much of the appropriations proposed by the bill are above the amounts appropriated for the current fiscal year, but below what was authorized in earlier congressional action.

For example, the bill approves $1.6 billion for Amtrak’s national network. That is an increase over the $1.4 billion appropriated for the current fiscal year but short of the $2.2 billion authorized for FY 2023.

Total Amtrak funding in the bill would be $2.3 billion versus the $3 billion proposed by the Biden administration and $3.3 billion sought by Amtrak.

The passenger carrier had said it needed that level of funding because of “the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic [that] continue to affect revenue and ridership.”

Amtrak said “robust FY 2023 grant funding is needed to enable Amtrak to continue operating our long-distance trains.”

The bill approved last week allocates $500 million for the Federal State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail program, which funds capital projects to bring facilities and infrastructure to a state of good repair, improve performance, and expand or establish new intercity passenger rail services.

The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program would receive $630 million. This includes a $150 million set-aside to “support the development of new intercity passenger rail service routes including alignments for existing routes.”

The bill contains language that seeks to prevent Amtrak from reducing or eliminating national network service, stating that Amtrak may not “discontinue, reduce the frequency of, suspend, or substantially alter the route of rail service on any portion of such route,” except in an emergency or during maintenance or construction outages.

No funding was appropriated for the Restoration and Enhancement Grants program, which provides operating assistance grants for initiating, restoring, or enhancing intercity passenger rail transportation.

Instead, the bill says Amtrak may use up to 10 percent of its $1.46 billion national network grant for the activities outlined in the service restoration program.

Biden Wants Increased Transportation Spending

March 30, 2022

The Biden administration has proposed increasing funding on railroad and public transit programs in federal fiscal year 2023 in a $5.79 trillion budget proposal.

The administration sent its budget recommendations to Congress this week.

Biden proposed spending $105 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation with another $37 billion in advance appropriations provided for by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The budget calls for $4.66 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration. The agency received $2.86 billion in the past two fiscal years.

Amtrak would get $3 billion, including $1.8 billion for the national network and $1.2 billion for the Northeast Corridor.

The Federal Transit Administration would receive $16.87 billion, which includes $300 million for rail car replacement.

Some funding in the proposed FTA budget would cover work on the Portal North Bridge replacement project in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, and $100 for engineering work on the Hudson Tunnels project between New York City and New Jersey.

Other notable transportation funding includes $2.85 billion for Capital Investment Grants, $500 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants, $555 million for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail program, $245 million for the Railroad Crossing Elimination program, and $1.5 billion for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grants and the new National Infrastructure Project Assistance Grant program,

The figures for those programs do not include funding authorized by the infrastructure act approved last year. All funding proposals are subject to congressional approval.

Some IIJA Transportation Funding Authorizations May Not Win Congressional Approval

December 6, 2021

Although Congress last week approved a stop-gap federal spending bill through a continuing resolution, one effect of that will be to delay approval of funding authorized in the recently approved Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The continuing resolution will extend federal funding at existing levels and, with few exceptions, ban new contracts. The resolution will expire next February.

Much of the transportation funding proposed by the IIJA, including money for intercity rail passenger service programs, is guaranteed by that legislation, but other funding programs within the IIJA are only authorizations that Congress must approve through the appropriation process.

The Rail Passengers Association reported on its website that a year-long continuing resolution could mean that as much as 20 percent of the authorized new funding of IIJA could go unrealized.

RPA said this includes authorizations for $3.9 billion in Amtrak operations and capital programs.

In a recent fundraising letter sent to RPA members, the group warned that there will be political pressure next spring to scale back federal spending.

Subject to potentially not being approved by lawmakers is funding for authorizations of programs involving grade-crossing improvements, upgrades to existing rail corridors, and the development of new passenger train services.

In an unrelated development, a key congressman who helped push the IIJA through Congress has announced plans to retire at the end of his current term.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, is chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and has been an outspoken proponent of increase rail passenger service and public transit.

The Oregon Democrat has served in Congress for 38 years. In a statement, DeFazio cited wanting to focus on his health and well being.

Charting the Obstacles to Passenger Rail Expansion

November 15, 2021

Last in a three-part series

During the week that leaders in the House of Representatives were struggling to push approval of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over the finish line, CSX and Norfolk Southern fired another shot across Amtrak’s bow.

The two Class 1 passenger carriers asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to dismiss a case brought by Amtrak last spring seeking to have regulators compel the freight carriers to host a new rail passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The Gulf Coast corridor proposal is a harbinger of what lies ahead for other proposed new Amtrak services that could be funded by the IIJA. It is a sobering cautionary tale.

Funding for operating and capital expenses is already in place for the 150-mile New Orleans-Mobile route that until August 2005 hosted Amtrak’s tri-weekly Sunset Limited between Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida.

CSX, which owns most of the route, has been dragging its feet on the proposed New Orleans-Mobile service for more than five years. At one point it demanded $2 billion in route infrastructure work.

In their STB filing, CSX and NS said they would withdraw their opposition to the new service if Amtrak pays for 14 capacity improvement projects the carriers say are needed.

In a fit of hyperbole, the Class 1 carriers said Amtrak service without these improvements would cause “systematic failure” to their freight service, most notably adversely affecting first mile, last mile freight service to shippers. These assertions would be comical were they not so serious.

For years Amtrak’s host railroads have demanded expensive infrastructure improvements as the price of agreeing to service expansion, including daily service for the Sunset Limited and Cardinal, or new service on a now freight-only route.

Many a service expansion has been stymied due to these demands for capital improvements, which Amtrak usually cannot afford.

The underlying conflict before the STB is about more than whether passenger trains are going to operate between New Orleans and Mobile and how much Amtrak and its state partners will have to pony up for infrastructure improvement projects.

Ultimately, it is about rules and whose interests those rules favor.

Amtrak and rail passenger advocates want rules that provide an easier path to service expansion in the face of host railroad resistance.

The host railroads want to maintain the status quo of being able to dictate the terms of access. They dislike having to deal with political pressure seeking to force them to accept passenger trains that they view as having the potential to interfere with their freight operations. They dislike having foisted upon them something they view as contributing nothing to their primary reason for being, namely providing transportation of freight.

I’ve written about this issue before and you can follow this link to read more: https://wordpress.com/post/akronrrclub.wordpress.com/61853

If Amtrak loses the STB Gulf case or gets a mixed decision that could curtail how much service expansion it is able to achieve.

But even a favorable decision for Amtrak may not be enough. NS and CSX and/or the Association of American Railroads are likely to go to court to seek to overturn that ruling or get it modified. They have the resources to litigate for as long as it takes to get the rules that they want.

From a rail passenger advocate perspective, the STB case is about serving the public interest. Rail passenger advocates make the assumption that additional intercity rail passenger service by definition does that.

From a host railroad perspective, the STB case is about maintaining control of its own property and protecting its competitive position in the transportation industry.

This is not to say host railroad resistance can’t be overcome. It is matter of on whose terms these disputes will be settled and how much that will cost. It is why the STB case could be critical to the success of the Amtrak ConnectsUS plan.

There are other potential obstacles standing in the way of passenger rail expansion.

The Amtrak ConnectsUS plan is predicated on state and/or local governments taking over the operating expenses of the new corridors described in the plan.

Amtrak has proposed paying up to 90 percent of those costs initially and fronting money for capital projects to establish stations and do host railroad-demanded infrastructure work.

The Amtrak share of operating costs will eventually reach zero over a six-year period.

A key question is whether Amtrak or the FRA will move ahead on projects in which the state(s) to be served by a new route fail to commit to picking up their share of a route’s operating costs.

The Amtrak ConnectsUS plan seems built on the belief that once the new services are up and running the states served will recognize their value and provide funding. Amtrak seems to be hoping that public pressure will lead to continued state funding of the service by the states served.

But what if they don’t? Many of the proposed new corridors are in states that have never funded Amtrak service. Why would they want to do so now?

The American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 contained $8 billion in grants for high-speed rail projects that did not require a state match.

In January 2010 Ohio received a $400 million grant to launch the 3-C Quick Start project.

In that year’s gubernatorial election, Republican John Kasich actively campaigned against the 3C project and Republicans who controlled the Ohio General Assembly expressed concerns about Ohio having to pay $17 million for operating costs.

After defeating incumbent Ted Strickland, a Democrat, Kasich killed the 3-C project. Ohio Republican legislative leaders in a move that was not well publicized at the time created rules that made it highly unlikely that Ohio would be able to use the federal grant to establish the 3-C Quick Start project.

The U.S. Department of Transportation took back the grant minus the $2 million Ohio had already spent. That money was disbursed elsewhere, primarily to California.

Ohio was not alone in spurning ARIA funding for rail passenger service. Projects in Florida and Wisconsin also were killed by incoming Republican governors.

The rules for grants the FRA will be awarding from IIJA funds have yet to be written although the IIJA enabling legislation establishes some criteria as described earlier in this series.

It is not difficult, though, to image that what happened in Ohio in 2010 could happen again when it comes to developing new passenger service envisioned by the Amtrak ConnectsUS plan.

Some new passenger services may result from IIJA funding, but the scope of expansion might be more modest than what rail advocates are envisioning.

Another obstacle could arise in 2023 when the 118th Congress is seated.

Just as what happened in Ohio in 2010, the 2022 election season is likely to feature candidates pledging to repeal or restrict how funds from the IIJA are used. Passenger rail could find itself in the cross hairs of those attacks.

Historically, the party that holds the White House in a president’s first term loses seats in Congress in the next mid-term election.

With Democrats holding paper-thin margins in the House and Senate, it would not take much for Republicans to gain control of one or both chambers in the 2022 elections.

If that happens, the environment for passenger rail in the 118th Congress likely will be quite different than it has been in the 117th Congress.

As pointed out in the first installment of this series, realizing the full potential of the IIJA on passenger rail service expansion will require appropriation of funds by Congress.

It is difficult to imagine a GOP-Controlled Congress being receptive to spending billions on new rail passenger service.

Republicans tend not to favor expansive and expensive government programs. Many GOP members of Congress identify as fiscal conservatives and they often oppose government-funded passenger rail of any kind.

Some of Amtrak’s fiercest and most persistent critics are conservative think tanks and many GOP members of Congress align with their views when it comes to transportation policy.

President Joseph R. Biden will still be sending appropriation proposals to Congress in January 2023 and 2024 and his administration probably can be counted on to recommend friendly budgets for passenger rail.

Yet Congress will have the final say on how much money passenger rail receives. A Republican-controlled Congress will not be inclined to give Biden any victories he can point to if he seeks re-election in 2024.

It’s not that all Republicans are opposed to intercity passenger rail. Amtrak’s national network has survived as long as it has because enough GOP representatives and senators have voted in favor of continued funding for it. Some of them have advocated for maintaining the existing Amtrak service in their states.

Republicans and Democrats have philosophical differences when it comes to how to spend public money and what to spend it on. There is nothing sinister about that. It is just a divergence of viewpoints about the role of government at the federal, state and local levels.

This includes differing views on the role government has to play in transportation policy and what modes of transportation should benefit the most from government investment.

But even putting that aside, there are limitations as to how much either party is willing to spend on rail passenger service.

In the 50 years of Amtrak’s existence, many Democratic administrations and Democratic-controlled chambers of Congress have failed to provide the type of reliable dedicated funding of rail passenger service that advocates and Amtrak have sought.

It is one thing to marshal political support to maintain the status quo of the existing intercity rail network and quite another to build support for the type of expansive additions to the network that rail passenger advocates favor.

There just seems to be too many forces that have kept intercity rail passenger service from developing into something more than a boutique form of transportation. The IIJA has not vanquished those forces.

The passage of the IIJA and its historic levels of passenger rail funding may thus turn out to be an aberration rather than a transformation to a new world order in which the nation’s rail passenger network undergoes a substantial expansion to resemble something from the 1950s.

There is too much entrenched opposition from interests who fear passenger rail’s gains will come at their expense.

This dynamic be can be seen at the state level where lawmakers must approve a balanced budget every year and passenger rail funding is weighed against the importance of other needs.

Those competing interests were on vivid display in Ohio in 2010 in the controversy over the 3-C Quick Start project.

Aside from a potentially hostile political environment and host railroad intransigence, the success of passenger rail programs funded by IIJA are linked to how well or how poorly the law is implemented.

The potential of the IIJA to influence rail passenger service is a long game and over the course of it there are bound to be changes in priorities among Amtrak managers, members of key congressional committees, and state and local transportation agencies.

Those changes will affect what does and doesn’t get done.

At this point there is much anticipation and expectation among rail passenger advocates about what could happen now that the IIJA is in place.

But expectations are not reality. It is a lesson passenger advocates know all too well. For once there is reason to be optimistic that good things are going to happen. From a passenger rail perspective, some good things will happen with IIJA funding.

It is just that what IIJA is able to achieve may not be as far-reaching as many passenger rail advocates want to believe.

It is far from a sure thing that we are on the cusp of a new era or a second rail revolution.

Senate Bill Boosts Amtrak, Public Transit FY2022 Funding

October 21, 2021

Amtrak and public transit would receive funding boosts for fiscal year 2022 under a draft budget proposal released this week by the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Funding for the national intercity passenger carrier would be $2.7 billion, an increase of $700,000 over the enacted FY2021 figure of $2 billion.

This includes $1,731,307, 307 for Amtrak’s national network and $968,692,693 for the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak received in FY2021 $700,000,000 for the NEC and $1,300,000,000 for the national network.

Including various grant programs and capital spending total passenger rail funding would be $3,444,860,000 compared with the FY2021 enacted amount of $2,581,720,000.

Public transit funding was set at $13,462,346,462 compared with the FY2021 enacted $12,959,120462.

The funding is contained in Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

Public Transit, High Speed Rail Funding May be Vulnerable to being Slashed from Budget Bill

October 13, 2021

Some congressional observers say that funding for public transit and high speed rail may be vulnerable to being cut as congressional Democrats reduce a $3.5 trillion budget bill to a lesser figure that can win approval of moderate members in the House and Senate.

The publication Rollcall reported that the House budget reconciliation bill allocated $57.3 billion to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including $10 billion for transit and $10 billion for high-speed rail.

If that funding is cut, some members of Congress will argue that rail passenger service and public transit already are getting new funding as part of a Senate-approved infrastructure bill that included $550 billion in new spending for transportation and infrastructure.

Certainly the argument that it had some funding in the bipartisan infrastructure bill will make it harder for there to be robust funding,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) when asked about transit and high-speed rail funding.

The infrastructure bill contains $39 billion in new spending for public transit and $66 billion for passenger rail.

The reconciliation bill contains an additional $10 billion each for public transit and high-speed rail. It also has $4 billion for a greenhouse gas reduction program for highways.

Democrats hold slim majorities in both chambers of Congress and have been fighting over the size of the budget bill.

They are using the reconciliation process to be able to pass a budget bill in the Senate by a simple majority to avoid a likely Republican filibuster.

Complicating matter is that some House Democrats have vowed to oppose the infrastructure bill until the House approves the larger reconciliation bill.

Advocates for public transit had pushed for the additional $10 billion in the reconciliation bill to restore what they see as a “cut” in the infrastructure bill of the originally proposed $48.5 billion for transit.

Paul Skoutelas, CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, said the $10 billion for transit in the reconciliation bill is for a new program aimed at linking transit to affordable housing through a new grant program. “It really is unique and different,” he said.

However, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pennsylvania), the committee’s ranking minority member, said the transit allocation in the reconciliation bill violated an agreement not to “double-dip” or spend money on programs that already benefited from the bipartisan infrastructure agreement.

“The transit money is overwhelmingly coming from the bipartisan bill,” Brown said. “No matter what we do on that, that’s not a major hit compared to the tens of billions we put in infrastructure.”

Even if the $10 billion for high speed rail now in the reconciliation bill survives, Jim Mathews, CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, said that isn’t enough to launch a comprehensive high-speed rail program.

“That money is desperately needed to jump-start those kinds of efforts,” he said. “But from a more 50,000-foot level, it was a policy endorsement of an approach we really have to embrace in this country.”

Mathews fears that money for high-speed rail is vulnerable to any effort to trim the size of the budget reconciliation bill.

Adie Tomer, head of the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said the need to cut money from the reconciliation measure means “everything could be on the table.”

Tomer said in the scheme of things, the transportation items are relatively small so reducing them will make little progress toward reaching the level of cuts needed to satisfy some senators.

“There are hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending across well over 100 different authorized programs,” he said. “That’s not the place to come up with easy cuts.”