Posts Tagged ‘Trump administration’

Senators Express Dismay Over Proposed DOT Budget Cuts

July 18, 2017

Although members of a Senate committee are displeased with the Trump administration’s proposed cuts of the U.S. Department of Transportation budget for fiscal year 2018, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was unmoved during a hearing held last week.

Trump has proposed slashing the DOT budget by $2.4 million. If Congress adopts the administration’s budget proposal, the DOT budget would fall from $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion with major cuts made from the hide of Amtrak and various transportation grant programs.

The budget proposal received a hearing from the Senate Appropriations Committee where some members spoke out in favor of keeping Amtrak as it is now.

“With regard to Amtrak, I am concerned about the impact that elimination of long-distance service would have on shared infrastructure with state-supported routes, such as the Downeaster in Maine,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the subcommittee on transportation.

“Long distance routes contribute in part to the capital expenditures for the Northeast Corridor,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member on the subcommittee. “That’s something of concern to many of us on the committee”

In response to a question asked by Reed as to whether DOT would be able to focus additional resources on the capital infrastructure needs of the Northeast Corridor, Chao said the Northeast Corridor is the only Amtrak route able to sustain itself and that DOT is working closely with Amtrak and local and state authorities in that region.

However, Chao said there is no money available for the Northeast Corridor except what’s in the president’s budget.

In response to a question asked by another senator, Chao suggested that finding more funding for Northeast Corridor repairs is Amtrak’s problem, not DOT’s

“These are repairs which have been delayed and the maintenance requirements are immense,” she said. “There has to be some way of looking at all these repairs, strategically figuring out [how] best to prioritize these repairs, have a program, and then execute [it].

“Amtrak has a new president, and I am very hopeful the president and the board will be able to address some of these issues.”

The Trump administration has proposed diverting money used to pay for Amtrak’s long-distance routes into funding NEC infrastructure work.

Some funding for Northeast Corridor capital projects would come from transit and commuter rail projects under the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program.

Amtrak is relying on a Capital Investment Program grant to finance some costs of building a new tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York Penn Station.

At the same time, the administration has proposed ending the TIGER grant program, which is used to help fund rail capital projects nationwide, including those that benefit intercity passenger rail.

Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., expressed concern that cuts in funding for Amtrak intercity service would increase congestion on the highways.

As Chao sees it, though, ending funding of long-distance passenger trains would enable Amtrak to focus its resources on what she termed its most vibrant component.

Heath Hall Named to FRA Post

June 28, 2017

Heath Hall has been named deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administrator.

Hall, whose position does not need Senate confirmation, was named by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who has known him since his days working in the deputy DOT secretary’s office and in the Peace Corps.

Now a vice president in the marketing and external affairs department of non-profit Innovate Mississippi, Hall also manages Pointe Innovation magazine.

He has served as senior vice president of external affairs at the Mississippi Economic Council, the State Chamber of Commerce, and as executive director of Mississippians for Civil Justice Reform/STOP Lawsuit Abuse in Mississippi.

Hall also served as Gov. Kirk Fordice’s director of public affairs, deputy press secretary, and deputy director of communications for Fordice’s re-election campaign.

In federal government service, Hall served as an FRA intern in the public relations office before moving into the USDOT deputy secretary’s office.

During the administration of George H.W. Bush, Hall served as an intern in the White House Office of Political Affairs.

The FRA is still without a permanent administrator. Patrick T. Warren, the FRA’s executive director, is serving as acting administrator.

Railway Age magazine reported that an administrator is unlikely to be appointed before August and that the agency is without an official mandate from the Trump Administration.

Moorman Stumps to Save Long-Distance Trains

June 14, 2017

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman recently told Congress that eliminating funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains in the federal fiscal year 2018 budget would cost more money than it would save.

Moorman

In a letter that accompanied Amtrak’s budget, Moorman said ending the funding would cost $423 million more than keeping it.

“The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the U.S. Department of Transportation proposes the elimination of Federal funding for Amtrak’s long distance services. Enactment of such a proposal would drastically shrink the scope of our network, could cause major disruptions in existing services, and increase costs for the remaining services across the Amtrak system,” Moorman wrote. “Amtrak’s initial projection is that eliminating long distance services would result in an additional cost of $423 million in FY 2018 alone, requiring more funding from Congress and our partners rather than less.”

The letter sought to highlight Amtrak’s successes last year.

“Amtrak reported strong audited financial results for the fiscal year which ended on Sep. 30, 2016, including an all-time ticket revenue record of $2.14 billion,” Moorman said. “The increased ticket revenue was fueled by a record 31.3 million passengers on America’s Railroad – nearly 400,000 more than the previous year. This is the sixth straight year Amtrak carried more than 30 million customers.

“The company covered 94 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues, up from 92 percent the year before – a world-class performance for a passenger-carrying railroad. Thanks in part to our strong performance, Amtrak was also able to make a net reduction in long-term debt of $69.2 million.”

As for Amtrak’s ongoing needs, Moorman said Amtrak needs funding to replace movable bridges that are more than 100 years old and money to pay for a backlog of crucial state-of-good-repair work in the Northeast Corridor estimated to cost $38 billion to complete.

Moorman said the Superliner equipment used by Amtrak’s long-distance trains averages more than 200,000 miles per car, per year, and the age of the fleet is nearly 40 years.

DOT Council Will Assist Infrastructure Projects

June 10, 2017

A council will be appointed by the Trump administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation to help project managers address rules and regulations.

In remarks made at the USDOT headquarters in Washington, President Donald Trump said the purpose of the council would be to give contractors a single point of contact to get decisions from the federal government “and to deliver that decision, whether it’s a road, a bridge, a dam.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said DOT had published a Federal Register notice “soliciting solutions and suggestions on ways to improve government permitting. If you have ideas, we want to hear from you.”

FRA Wants Guidance on High-Speed Rail Rules

June 3, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration is seeking guidance from the White House before it issues standards for high-speed rail lines.

The FRA has been working on the rules for several months but has held them back because of a Trump administration requirement that agencies eliminate two regulations for every new regulation that they issue.

A news report this past week published by The Bureau of National Affairs, a division of Bloomberg, quoted the FRA’s chief safety officer, Robert Lauby, as saying that the high-speed regulations are “complete or ready to be issued,” but the agency lacks an appointed administrator or deputy administrator.

“We want to get some new leadership. We want to get some consistency and have some more direction,” Lauby said. “There’s more questions that need to be answered before we will have a firm way forward.”

The proposed high-speed rail rules were released last November and are designed to create a new tier of safety standards that allow passenger rail service at speeds up to 220 mph along lines shared with commuter and other rail.

At the present, the fastest train in America is Amtrak’s Acela Express, which hits 150 mph in some places in the Northeast Corridor.

Lauby said the rail industry wants the regulations released, calling them “well-liked” because they will provide cost-savings and were developed in coordination with rail and affected industries.

“Rather than have a big question mark, this provides predictability,” Lauby said. “They know exactly what they need to build. They can do accurate costs estimates, and they can have good proposals, and they can compete with each other.”

AAPA Critical of Proposed Funding Cuts

May 26, 2017

Another transportation interest group has come out in opposition to the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts for fiscal year 2018.

The Association of Port Authorities this week said the proposed cuts would reduce funding to programs that are “critically important to ports.” In a statement, the group singled out Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants and port security grants.

The AAPA said the Trump budget would reduce Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund outlays and assistance in reducing diesel emissions.

The group favors spending $66 billion in federal funds for port-related infrastructure over the next 10 years and investing $33.8 billion to maintain and modernize deep-draft shipping channels, as well as $32.03 billion to build vital road and rail connections to ports and improve port facility infrastructure.

The Trump budget does seek money for harbor deepening projects in Boston and Savannah, Georgia, but AAPA noted that Congress has authorized 15 such projects.

AAPA did say it was encouraged by the administration’s infrastructure proposal and favors the concept of using federal funds to leverage private sector investments. It said that competitive grants often attract non-federal dollars, including money from the private sector.

Trump Infrastructure Plan Included in Budget

May 25, 2017

It turns out that the Trump administration’s much-ballyhooed transportation infrastructure plan was tucked away inside the fiscal year 2018 budget announced on Tuesday although you can be forgiven for having missed it.

It was contained in a six page fact sheet as part of the budget proposal.

As hinted at by various administration officials, including Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the plan proposes spending $200 billion over 10 years with the expectation that the money will attract and support $1 trillion in private/public infrastructure investment.

The budget document described the plan as a combination of new federal funding, incentives for private sector investment, and expedited projects.

“The administration’s goal is to seek long-term reform on how infrastructure projects are regulated, funded, delivered and maintained,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at a news conference.

She said more details will be forthcoming, including a legislative package later this year, but Chao described the plan outlined on Tuesday as “the main key principles.”

The plan calls for making changes in regulations so as to speed up the environmental review and permit process and shifting more service to the private sectors.

One example of the latter mentioned in the budget document would be to transfer the air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration to a nonprofit or nongovernmental entity in 2021.

Another change would be to expand the ability of states to impose tolls on interstate highways by reducing existing restrictions on that practice.

Related to that the plan is a proposal to allow private investors to construct and maintain rest stops along highways.

A report by The Hill, said that the infrastructure plan relies on leveraging private sector investment, ensuring federal dollars are targeted toward transformative projects, shifting more services and underused capital assets to the private sector and giving states and localities more flexibility.

Pilot programs will be proposed to explore new environmental reviews, designate a single entity to guide a project through the approval process; put some permitting into the hands of states and localities, and ensure that agencies don’t need to worry about making a permit approval process litigation proof.

Funding of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program will be boosted to $1 billion every year.

The proposal to allow states to impose tolls on interstate highways won the approval of Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, although with some qualifications.

“Congress should give states access to one more tool in the toolbox by allowing them to toll their interstate highways specifically to rebuild them,” he said. “This wouldn’t be a mandate. No state would be required to toll their interstates. This would simply give states an option, the flexibility to choose tolling if it makes sense to them.”

President Donald Trump had spoken often during his 2016 campaign about the need to improve the nation’s infrastructure.

He mentioned it again during an election night speech and during a Feb. 28 address to Congress, saying it would create millions of jobs.

In response, Democrats noted the Trump’s budget would provide just $5 billion in FY 2018 and did not provide any detail about where the money would go or how it would be paid for.

But Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune said the plan “recognizes important needs in our country and takes a long-term view on meeting those needs.”

Chao expects Congress to begin working on the infrastructure package in the third quarter of this year.

APTA Decries Proposed Grant Program Cuts

May 25, 2017

In a statement, the American Public Transportation Association was critical of plans by the Trump administration to end two grant programs that benefit public transit.

The administration’s fiscal year 2018 federal budget proposal seeks to end the Transportation Investment Generating Economy Recovery grants and to phase out the Capital Improvement Grants program.

“This budget proposal to eliminate critical public transportation infrastructure projects is inconsistent with addressing America’s critical transportation needs and helping America’s economy prosper,” said Richard White, APTA’s acting president and chief executive officer, in a news release. “These targeted cuts to public transit go directly against the president’s own calls for new infrastructure spending.”

An earlier “skinny budget” blueprint released by the White House had outlined the administration’s desire to slash both programs, but some public transportation officials had hoped that a backlash against those proposed cuts would change the administration’s mind.

APTA said that Congress has been annually funding the TIGER grant program “at significant levels.”

The proposed transit cuts would put 800,000 jobs at risk and a possible loss of $90 billion in economic output, APTA officials said, citing a recent economic analysis prepared for the association.

That analysis said the spending cuts would endanger $38 billion of already planned transit projects.

“We are extremely concerned with the administration’s proposal to phase out existing infrastructure programs that are putting people to work building projects that our communities need and support,” White said.

Trump Budget Slashes Amtrak Funding 45%

May 24, 2017

The Trump administration wants to slash Amtrak funding by 45 percent in fiscal year 2018.

The detailed budget proposed released this week proposed giving Amtrak $744 million.

In the current fiscal year, Amtrak received $1.4 billion. The cuts for next year include ending $289 for Amtrak’s long-distance train routes.

The budget document described long-distance trains as “a vestige of when train service was the only viable transcontinental transportation option. Today, communities are served by an expansive aviation, interstate highway, and intercity bus network.”

The document said Amtrak’s long-distance trains represent the greatest amount of Amtrak’s operating losses, serve relatively small populations, and have the worst on-time record.

The Trump administration would instead appropriate $1.5 billion for the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

[The Northeast Corridor] “faces many challenges, and the 2018 Budget proposal would allow Amtrak to right-size itself and more adequately focus on these pressing issues,” the budget document said.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration has proposed cutting funding for the development of New York’s Penn Station by 64 percent from $14 million to $5 million.

The Amtrak funding cuts make up the lion’s share of the 37 percent cut proposed by the Trump administration for the Federal Railroad Administration.

The agency’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Transportation, would receive $16.2-billion in FY 2018, a decline of 12.7 percent over what it received in FY 2017.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s budget would drop by 37 percent from $1.7 billion to $1.05 billion while Federal Transit Administration will decline by 5 percent from its FY 2017 appropriation of $11.8 billion.

The FTA would receive $11.2 billion, which includes $9.7 billion for transit formula grants. The FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program for new starts would be cut by 43 percent from $2.16 billion to $1.2.

Funding would be continued only for programs that FTA is legally bound to support through full-funding grant agreements.

Funding for the Transportation Generating Economic Recovery grant program would be eliminated.

The budget document said projects that are attempting to receive TIGER funding could still earn grants through the Nationally Significant Freight and Highways Projects fund managed by DOT’s Build America Bureau.

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing and Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation programs would remain in place, but receive no additional funding.

The National Transportation Safety Board would receive $106 million, which is no change from FY 2017.

The Surface Transportation Board would receive a $5 million boost to $37 million in order to implement regulatory changes under the STB reauthorization law of 2015.

The Trump administration budget proposal is likely to undergo numerous changes as Congress considers federal funding priorities for FY 2018.

Infrastructure Plan to be Released by Late May

May 19, 2017

Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao told a Senate committee this week that the Trump administration’s U.S. infrastructure revitalization plan will be released before the end of May.

However, Chao said in her testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that it will be fall before a more detailed plan is presented.  She said that will coincide with a congressional timetable.

“In the interim, obviously the president is very impatient, and he has asked that principles be released, so they should be coming out shortly,” Chao said.

She declined when pressed to provide any details other than to repeat earlier statement that the plan will be focused on using federal dollars to attract additional funding from state and local governments, and the private sector.

“The infrastructure proposal is being put together with a much greater view of principles,” Chao said. “Given the decentralized nature of our transportation infrastructure, there will be seeding of federal dollars that, hopefully, will leverage other monies from the private sector, state and local to $1 trillion.

“Federal funding often displaces state and local funds. We believe that the infrastructure needs are so great that all entities need to collaborate,” she said.

Some senators used the hearing to actively promote transportation projects in their states, ranging from transit capital funding to the Caltrain’s Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project to the need to rebuild Northeast Corridor infrastructure.

Some senators also expressed concern about the future of DOT TIGER and FASTLANE competitive grant programs.

Chao acknowledged that TIGER grants were popular with Congress. A Trump fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint has proposed ending TIGER funding, but Chao said it could re-emerge in a different form.

“The thought was that going forward there be a more holistic approach to infrastructure, and these TIGER grants would be recast some way in the future,” Chao said.