Posts Tagged ‘Transportation funding’

Transit Looks to Trump Infrastructure Plan

April 10, 2017

Faced with federal budget cuts, rail and transit agencies are hoping that the Trump administration will be open to helping to fund transit capital projects as part of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that has been promised.

It is not clear yet when the plan will be rolled out or what it will seek to fund.

President Donald Trump recently said that the infrastructure plan will be for at least $1 trillion and that there may be a 90-day deadline to get started in order to receive funding.

Trump has said the plan will be revealed as early as next month.

That timeline was echoed by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao who said the administration is “working on a legislative package that will probably be in May, or late May.”

Chao said the plan will focus on investments for roads, bridges, airports and potentially broadband access, veteran hospitals, and improvements for the electrical grid and water systems.

She added that the bill containing the infrastructure plan will tackle reducing regulations.

In particular, rail and transit authorities are concerned about how the administration’s “skinny budget” seeks to reduce grant funding from the Federal Transit Authority and the U.S. DOT’s TIGER program. Hence, their interest in obtaining funding for capital projects through the infrastructure plan.

Trump Budget Would End Essential Air Service

March 20, 2017

It doesn’t get as much attention as Amtrak funding, but the federal government also underwrites airline service to rural regions of the United States.

No cites in Ohio receive funding for essential air service, but the program helps provide service in some neighboring states, including Pennsylvania.

The Trump administration budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 would end all federal funding for essential air service.

The budget proposal said ending the program would save about $175 million a year.

News reports indicate that The Essential Air Service program subsidizes airline flights to 111 communities that would otherwise have no scheduled service and which are at least 210 miles from the nearest hub airport.

About 60 communities in Alaska also receive subsidized air service.

Funding for air service to smaller communities has been around since the post-World War II era, but the current program was put into place in 1978 to preserve service at communities that were likely to lose air service in the wake of airline deregulation.

The program has drawn criticism because not all flights are full and the cost per passenger is high.

As is likely to be the case with the Trump administration plan to cut funding for Amtrak long-distance trains, opposition to the air service cuts are likely to arise in Congress, particularly the Senate, from lawmakers from rural states who have resisted past efforts to kill the air service program.

 

No New Ohio Transit Funding Likely

December 16, 2016

All Aboard Ohio reports that the next budget for the Ohio Department of Transportation to be submitted by Gov. John Kasich is unlikely to contain any additional funding for public transportation.

ODOT 2The budget proposal will be presented to the Ohio General Assembly in late January and cover fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

AAO, a rail passenger advocacy group, said that ODOT officials have told metropolitan planning organizations that the budget will be “very tight.”

Kasich recently told the legislature that the state’s revenues have been below estimates and that Ohio may be on the verge of a recession.

The passenger advocacy group noted in its December newsletter that public transportation in Ohio is funded from the general fund and the ODOT budget is separate from that.

No Ohio Rail Projects Get 2015 TIGER Grant

October 31, 2015

No Ohio rail project applications made the final cut when it came time to hand out the 2015 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants.

The U.S. Department of Transportation this past week announced that 16 rail-related projects had won TIGER grants.

The Ports of Indiana was awarded $10 million to construct a double rail loop and rail-to-barge transfer facility in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

The project also includes construction of a nearly mile-long siding extension that will allow railroads to deliver a 90-car unit train to the port. The project will also construct a truck-to-rail intermodal facility to accommodate increasing truck traffic expected from the East End Bridge over the Ohio River.

Buffalo, New York, received $18 million to o rebuild the lower Main Street segment of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s Metro Rail light rail service.

The Metra commuter rail agency of Chicago received $15 million to replace a bridge over the Fox River in Elgin, Illinois, on a route owned by Canadian Pacific.

The TIGER grants were begun in 2009. This year there were 627 eligible applications that collectively sought $10.1 billion when there was just $500 million available.

The applications came from all 50 states. Grants were awarded to 39 projects in 34 states and more than $245 million was awarded to rail-related projects.

House OKs 3-Year PTC Deadline Extension

October 28, 2015

The House of Representatives approved on Tuesday stopgap legislation that will extend authorization for federal highway and transit programs through Nov. 20.

The bill also contains a provision extending the deadline for implementation of positive train control by at least three years on rail lines that handle passengers and hazardous cargo.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which last July approved a three-year extension of transportation funding.

The Senate will have two days to respond to the House bill before the authority for federal transportation spending expires.

However, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) has vowed to oppose the House-passed extension of the PTC deadline from its current Dec. 31 date.

Boxer is not opposed to an extension of the PTC deadline per se, but wants it to be months rather than years.

Politico, a Washington newspaper that covers Capitol Hill, expressed doubt that Boxer will be able to prevail in her attempt to shorten the PTC extension.

She has described the three-year PTC extension as a “special-interest earmark” and said that railroads don’t want to be scrutinized.

She described the PTC extension in the House bill as a “sweetheart carve-out” for the railroad industry

“I think Barbara’s kind of by herself on this,” said Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma).

Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said delaying the PTC extension would provide “extra impetus” for enacting a long-term transportation bill this year

A nationwide rail shutdown, he said, would be an “emergency” that requires immediate action. “We’ve got to be practical about this and work this phased deal,” Nelson said.

Boardman Decries ‘Zero’ Funding of Rail Transportation Infrastructure Projects

October 27, 2015

Amtrak President Joe Boardman has come face to face with a reality that all of his predecessors have faced. Funding for Amtrak is always year to year and that makes long-term planning difficult.

As if that isn’t bad enough, Boardman said the nation faces billions of dollars in infrastructure repairs but has made no progress toward addressing those.

Chief among those infrastructure needs is a plan to resolve railroad congestion in Chicago that delays Amtrak and freight trains alike.

Boardman appeared on Monday on a panel at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Monday to stump for a plan that Amtrak presented recently to fund the $2.6 billion Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program.

Boardman lamented that Amtrak’s annual funding struggles has made multi-year projects exceedingly difficult to plan and carry out.

Also appearing on the panel were Amtrak board member Thomas Carper, former U.S. Rep. Jack Quinn ( R-New York) and Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center President Howard Lerner.

The panel noted that 29 CREATE projects have been built at a cost of $1 billion.

Boardman said it has been a long time since national leaders approved major projects for the common good.

He said the Chicago projects remain unfunded along with the Gateway project to rebuild century-old infrastructure and increase capacity between New York City and New Jersey.

Boardman said at stake is the day-in, day-out reliability of the rail network as well as the mobility needs of students, residents of remote areas and the physically disadvantaged.

As an example of why operation of the rail system needs to be more reliable, Boardman said that the on-time performance of state-supported Amtrak trains is around 55 percent while that of long-distance trains is below 50 percent.

Carper noted that completion of the Englewood Flyover in Chicago eliminated about six train delays per hour at the busiest times.

That $130 million project elevated Metra’s Rock Island District over the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern. The latter is used by 14 Amtrak trains per day.

Carper said that United Parcel Service loses $1 million for every minute of delay to its shipments and that $7 to $9 billion of the nation’s annual gross domestic product is dependent on the flow of freight through Chicago.

Lerner said the next priorities for Chicago should be the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project and the Grand Crossing Project.

He also said that Amtrak, Metra and freight railroads need to better coordinate dispatching and that the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program must be reformed to make its loans easier to obtain.

However, funding for the rest of CREATE projects as well as the $20 billion Gateway project has yet to be approved.

Lerner said that there are no substitutes for a long-term federal funding program for passenger rail.

Amtak FY2014 Funding to Increase

January 17, 2014
Passengers board a late-running eastbound Lake Shore Limited at Cleveland on Jan. 10. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

Passengers board a late-running eastbound Lake Shore Limited at Cleveland on Jan. 10. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

Amtrak will score an increase in funding in the omnibus fiscal year 2014 budget bill that Congress is expected to pass. As a whole, transportation received $71.1 billion, which is a reduction of $1 billion from the FY2012 appropriation. 

Lawmakers allocated $1.39 billion to Amtrak, which is a $46 million increase over its FY 2013 appropriation.

Fueling the increase is a $1.05 billion capital budget (including $199 million for debt service, $50 million for American With Disabilities Act spending, and $20 million for Northeast Corridor-specific programs).

Amtrak’s operating budget was cut by $102 million although the railroad has an option to “flex” $40 million in capital spending to operations if needed.

The bill also includes $10 million in Department of Homeland Security funding for Amtrak and $23.5 million for the Amtrak Inspector General.

The bill imposes on Amtrak limits on overtime for employees and a prohibition on federal support for routes on which Amtrak offers a discount of 50 percent or more off normal, peak fares. An exception to the latter is made when the loss from the discount is covered by the state and the state participates in setting the fares.

Repealed in the bill is restrictive language included in the Hurricane Sandy relief act pertaining to Amtrak’s access to approximately $80 million in fiscal 2013 capital recovery funds.

Public transit will receive $10.7 billion in FY2014, a $100 million reduction over the amount enacted in 2013.

The budget bill contains nothing for high-speed rail. The Office of Sustainable Communities and its Integrated Planning and Investment Grants, formerly known as the Regional Planning and Community Challenge Grants, received zero funding.

Multi-modal transportation programs fared well in the budget. Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) will get a 20 percent increasing in funding from $500 million in 2013 to $600 million in 2014.

That $500 million translated into $474 million in grants last year with some used for planning and administration. Some $20 million of the 2014 amount is earmarked for planning. The bill includes $17.8 billion in discretionary appropriations and $53.5 billion in “non-discretionary ‘obligation limitation’ funding” for highways, transit and safety, and some funding for airports.

The obligation limitation is the amount that agencies are allowed to spend, partly based on expected receipts from the Highway Trust Fund.

These figures are $164 million below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and $4.9 billion below the president’s request.

MAP-21 funding levels for highways and transit will be maintained at $41 billion and $8.6 billion, respectively.

Much of the “highway” money can be used by states for transportation projects that aren’t highways.

In recent years Congress has been unable to agree on a budget so funding levels have essentially been frozen in place. Lawmakers then completed various deals and imposed sequesters without much strategy or forethought.

“For the first time since 2011, no mission of our government will be left behind on autopilot,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski in a statement, noting that all 12 sections of the bill are complete.