Posts Tagged ‘Fixing America’s Surface Transportation’

Transportation Authorization Caught in Political Gridlock

October 7, 2021

Seeming lost amid the ongoing developments in the U.S. House of Representatives over the infrastructure bill and next fiscal year’s spending plan was the expiration of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act on Sept. 30.

The law authorizes funding for various federal transportation programs including funding for highways, public transit funding and Amtrak.

As has happened in other years, including 2020, Congress has approved a temporary extension of the FAST Act.

That legislation was signed by President Joseph Biden on Oct. 2 and maintains funding for road and transit programs for a month.

However, the extension won’t provide any new funding to state departments of transportation and some U.S. Department of Transportation workers will be temporarily furloughed.

The Senate’s five-year transportation authorization is included in the infrastructure plan

House Infrastructure Bill Vote Seen by Sept. 27

August 26, 2021

The House of Representatives is expected to vote by Sept. 27 on a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that was adopted in early August by the Senate.

The plan, which received bi-partisan support in the Senate, includes $550 billion over five years for public transit and passenger and freight rail.

Passenger rail would receive $66 billion and freight rail $39 billion. The infrastructure plan also includes the Senate version of a five-year surface transportation authorization.

That authorization would succeed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act that expires on Sept. 30.

Infighting among House Democrats had threatened to scuttle the infrastructure plan or delay it. Some Democrats have demanded an immediate vote on the infrastructure plan while others wanted to use that vote as leverage to obtain more funding for various programs in a budget bill that Congress is considering.

The latter have signaled that they still consider the budget bill and the infrastructure plan to be linked, which raises the prospect that another standoff on a vote on the infrastructure bill could come next week.

More liberal House Democrats have vowed not to vote in favor of the infrastructure bill until a vote is taken on the budget bill.

Senate Committee Introduces Surface Transportation Authorization Bill

June 14, 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.

House Dems Introduce $547B Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill

June 7, 2021

Congressional Democrats have introduced a $547 billion five year surface transportation reauthorization bill.

The proposal is 80 percent higher than a $303.5 billion bill introduced in the Senate.

The House bill, named Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act. would succeed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act that expires in late September.

The House bill is expected to be marked up by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 9.

Among the highlights of the bill are $109 billion for public transit, $95 billion for passenger and freight rail, and $343 billion for roads, bridges and safety.

Amtrak would receive $32 billion, tripling its funding to allow for “enhanced service, Americans With Disabilities Act upgrades, and investments to renew and support service on the Northeast Corridor and long-distance and state-supported routes.

Senate Committee Releases Draft Surface Transportation Reauthorization Legislation

May 25, 2021

A U.S. Senate Committee has released draft legislation for a $303.5 billion surface transportation bill for federal fiscal years 2022-2026.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 is to be considered by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on May 26.

It proposes a 34 percent increase in spending over the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act that expired in 2020 and was given a one-year extension to Sept. 30, 2021.

The bill is supported by committee members of both parties including Chairman Tom Carper (D-Delaware and Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia, the ranking minority committee member.

The bill proposes $245 million for the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Program for each of fiscal years 2022-26 and removes the requirement that at least half of the funds “must be for the installation of protective devices” at crossings.

Funding for Operation Lifesaver, work zone safety grants, and safety clearinghouses would be consolidated.

In a change affecting public transportation the bill adds eligibility for the construction of a bus rapid transit corridor or dedicated bus lanes.

Another change requires a study of “forecasted travel demand data compared to actual observed travel.”

That information is to be used by state and metropolitan planning organizations to forecast travel.

The U.S. Department of Transportation would be directed to establish a pilot program to demonstrate a national motor vehicle per-mile user fee.

Agencies Finalize Rules on Environmental Review Pilot Program

January 5, 2021

The Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration and Federal Highway Administration have launched a pilot program that would allow up to two states to conduct environmental reviews and approvals for projects under state laws rather than under the federal National Environmental Policy Act.

The final regulations for the pilot, which were published in the Federal Register, allow for the environmental review and approval under state laws under certain circumstances.

The new rule will become effective Jan. 27. The pilot program was mandated by 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. 

FAST Act 1-Year Extension Approved

October 2, 2020

President Trump signed on Wednesday night legislation to extend the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act for a year as well as continue federal funding at current levels through Dec. 11.

The action averts a possible shutdown of the federal government that would have been triggered on Thursday because the Senate has thus far failed to approve spending bills for federal fiscal year 2021.

The House had passed its own spending bills earlier but those had languished due to the lack of Senate action.

The FAST Act extension provides at least $12.6 billion for public transit investment and prevents a $6 billion across-the-board cut to public transit agencies. The legislation provides $3.2 billion to the Mass Transit Account.

It also assures continued spending on highway projects and federal funding of Amtrak.

The continuing resolution will maintain Amtrak funding at FY2020 levels and won’t affect the carrier’s plans to reduce the operation of most long-distance trains to three days a week this month.

The American Public Transportation Association said it is the first time in 30 years that Congress enacted a one-year extension of surface transportation authorization programs after the lapse of a multiyear authorization act.

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

September 25, 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.

FTA Has Funding to Expedite Capital Projects

July 31, 2020

The Federal Transit Administration said it will make available $225 million in grant funding to be used to expedite completion of new transit capital projects.

The funding is being made available under a pilot program authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

Eligible capital projects must use public-private partnerships, be operated and maintained by employees of an existing public transportation provider, and have a federal cost share not exceeding 25 percent of the project cost.

Currently, $100 million of the grant funding is available for allocation. Up to eight projects can be awarded funding.