Posts Tagged ‘Transportation funding’

COVID-19 Transportation Aid Levels Proposed

February 9, 2021

Democrats in the House of Representatives have reportedly settled on funding levels for transportation that would be included in a proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Under the proposal, transit agencies would receive $30 billion, Amtrak would get $1.5 billion, airlines would receive $14 billion and airports would get $8 billion.

The COVID-19 aid funding for transit falls short of the $39.3 billion that transit systems were seeking.

Amtrak funding would nearly match the $1.541 billion that the intercity passenger carrier is seeking from Congress.

However, it exceeds the $20 million that President Joseph Biden had proposed.

Biden’s initial proposal contained no funding for Amtrak or airlines.

A House committee is expected to begin working this week on the COVID-19 pandemic aid proposal.

Bill Would Boost Transportation Funding

June 4, 2020

Amtrak funding would triple under a five-year transportation plan released by some members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

The plan, known as the “INVEST in America Act,” would authorize almost $500 billion for infrastructure, including $60 billion for rail projects.

Of the $494 billion in funding authorized by the legislation, $319 billion or 65 percent would go toward highway-related projects.

The bill contains $105 billion for transit, $29 billion for Amtrak, and a new $19 billion grant program devoted entirely to passenger rail projects.

Funding for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program would be $7 billion for passenger and freight projects, and a new $2.5 billion grant program for grade-crossing improvements.

The bill is being pushed by Democratic members of the committee and drew immediate criticism from three Republican members.

The GOP members, who were not involved in drafting the bill, said as proposed the bill would not provide enough flexibility for states and would favor urban areas over rural regions.

Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation defended the bill by describing it as transformational legislation that would move the nation into a new era of planning, building and improving U.S. infrastructure.

The proposed legislation would prohibit Amtrak from imposing mandatory arbitration in ticket policies, mandate an improved methodology and increase transparency in the process Amtrak uses to determine how much states pay for corridor services.

Amtrak would also be directed to offer reduced fares for certain groups, including veterans and current members of the military and their families, and be required to provide access to hot meals for all passengers traveling overnight and not just those in sleeper class.

The outsourcing of onboard food and beverage service would be banned and Amtrak would have to create a working group to issue a report within a year on how to improve food and beverage service.

As for other railroads, the bill would require use of two-person crews on freight trains with some exemptions for short lines.

The U.S. Department of Transportation would be directed to develop a national strategy to deal with the delays at grade crossings, saying crossings should not be blocked for more than 10 minutes at a time.

The DOT special permits allowing transport of liquefied natural gas by tank car would be rescinded and DOT would be prohibited from issuing any further permits until the agency has further studied the safety of the matter.

The Government Accountability would be directed to conduct a study on the effect of precision scheduled railroading on shippers as well as s study on the safety issues of trains longer than 7,500 feet.

Senate Approves Passenger Rail Funding

August 3, 2018

The U.S. Senate has approved on a 92-6 vote $16.1 billion for billion for public transit and intercity passenger rail while also seeking to preserve Amtrak’s national network.

The legislation provides $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail grants, which are $1.3 billion more than authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

The funding is contained within the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019.

The bill also funds the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program at $2.5 billion, marking a $92 million decrease from FY18, according to a statement issued by nonprofit advocacy group Transportation for America.

The legislation allocates $1 billion for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants program.

The bill also specifically directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to administer the program as it was under 2016 in response to attempted changes that would have added “greater financial and administrative burdens on local communities.”

As for Amtrak’s national network, the Senate approved an amendment by senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) to provide $50 million to maintain the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

The amendment would provide the resources needed for maintenance and safety improvements along the route as well as “effectively reverse” Amtrak’s plans decision to substitute buses for rail service between Albuquerque and western Kansas.

It is designed to compel Amtrak to fulfill its promise of providing matching funds for the grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, to rebuild the route.

Trump Budget Also Targets Air Service, Fees

February 15, 2018

Amtrak is not the only form of transportation with a target on its back in the Trump administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019.

In the same way that the budget seeks to slash funding for Amtrak, particularly its long-distance trains, the administration wants to cut funding for essential air service to small airports.

The budget proposed cutting expenditures for the EAS program from $150 million to $93 million.

The budget would also raise fees related to transportation security, and customs and immigration fees paid by airline and cruise passengers. The federal air traffic control system would be privatized.

Amtrak funding would fall from $1.5 billion to $738 million. The budget proposal said Amtrak’s long-distance trains suffer from poor on-time performance and carry just 4.7 million of Amtrak’s nearly 32 million annual passengers. It also said the long-distance trains lose more than $500 million annually.

These proposals are not new. Most of them were in the FY 2018 budget, but Congress did not heed them.

The Trump administration budget proposal calls for appropriating $15.6 billion for the Department of Transportation, a cut of 19 percent from what Congress gave it in FY 2017.

The most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Transportation, dated October 2016, shows that the federal government funded commercial airline flights to 120 communities in the continental U.S and Hawaii.

The program, which began in 1978, also makes 237 Alaskan communities eligible for funding.

The rational for the EAS program was to enable remote towns to remain in the national air traffic network following airline deregulation, which resulted in scores of airports losing commercial service.

“However, today many EAS flights are not full and have high per-passenger subsidy costs. Several EAS eligible communities are relatively close to major airports,” the budget proposal says.

The recommendations were part of the $4.4 trillion budget proposal the administration sent to Congress on Monday.

Among the travel security-related fees that the administration wants to increase are the 9/11-passenger security fee that is assessed on airfare from the current $5.60 per one-way trip to $6.60 in 2019 and then to $8.25 beginning in 2020.

Although the 9/11 fee is supposed to fund Transportation Security Administration airport operations, Congress has sent about a third of it to items unrelated to security.

The administration said raising the fee would result in the traveling public paying for the full cost of aviation security.

The custom inspection fee would increase from $5.65 to $7.75. This fee is assessed on air and cruise ticket prices for people arriving in the United States.

The immigration fee, which is also assessed on tickets held by air and cruise passengers entering the U.S., would go from $7 to $9.

The proposal includes ending an exemption on that fee for passengers arriving via sea from Canada and Mexico.

The budget proposal said that the customs fee and immigration fee were last increased in 2007 and 2001, respectively.

Air traffic control is now overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, but the Trump administration wants to shift it to an independent private organization.

Doing this, the administration believes, would speed implementation of a satellite-based NextGen system while removing air traffic control from contentious appropriation debates in Congress.

Critics have said doing this would reduce public accountability and harm the interests of private aviation.

An ATC privatization bill has twice made it out of the House Transportation Committee, but has failed to pass either the full House or the Senate due to bi-partisan opposition.

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.