Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Department of Transportation’

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.

DOT Freight Index Set Record in May

July 17, 2017

The U.S. Department of Transportation said last week that its Freight Transportation Services Index was a record 126.8 in May, besting the previous best of 126.0 set in February 2017.

The index is based on the amount of freight carried by for-hire transportation entities and it increased by 2.2 percent from April.

The Freight TSI registered its largest month-over-month gain since it rose 2.9 percent from November to December 2011, DOT Bureau of Transportation Statistics said.

“The May increase was broad-based, with gains in most modes, especially water and pipeline, while air freight and trucking were stable,” BTS officials said in a statement. “The increase took place despite mixed performance in other indicators in May.”

The Freight TSI increased 1.8 percent in May compared with the same period in 2016.

The Passenger TSI, which is based on month-to-month changes in travel provided by air, local transit and intercity rail services, fell 0.2 percent in May.

However, the Passenger TSI index of 126.7 was a 1.4 percent increase from May 2016.

May’s combined TSI of 126.7 was a 1.4 percent increase from April 2017 and a 3.3 percent from May 2016.

DOT Revamps FASTLANE Grant Program

July 1, 2017

The U.S. Department of Transportation has reworked a grant program to focus on freight-related infrastructure projects that receive some funding from the private sector and other non-federal sources.

Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-Term Achievement of National Efficiencies, better known as FASTLANE, has been renamed Infrastructure for Rebuilding America and will make $1.5 billion available for infrastructure projects.

In a news release, DOT said the grant guidelines have been revised to “evaluate projects to align them with national and regional economic vitality goals and to leverage additional non-federal funding.”

INFRA grants will also be used for safety-oriented projects.

For a large project, the INFRA grant must be at least $25 million. For a small project, the grant must be at least $5 million. For each fiscal year of INFRA funds, 10 percent of available funds are reserved for small projects and at least 25 percent of funding will go toward rural projects.

The FASTLANE program was authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act to provide competitive grants or credit assistance to nationally and regionally significant freight and highway projects.

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.

U.S. DOT Seeking Public Views on Regulations

June 19, 2017

Public views are being sought by the U.S. Department of Transportation on policies, guidance documents and regulations that may create obstacles to transportation infrastructure projects.

The agency is undertaking a review of its existing polices, guidance and regulations that may be unnecessary.

As part of that review, DOT is asking affected stakeholders and the public to help identify non-statutory requirements that should be removed or revised.

Comments should be received no later than July 24.

Instructions for filing comments can be found via this link.

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.”

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.

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.

Rosen Confirmed for Top USDOT Post

May 18, 2017

Jeffrey Rosen was confirmed this week by the Senate to be deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Rosen becomes the 18th deputy secretary in USDOT’s 50-year history.

“I am delighted to welcome Deputy Secretary Jeff Rosen to the department. His extensive background in transportation, budget, regulatory reform and management will be invaluable as we implement the president’s agenda,” said UDOT Secretary Elaine Chao.

Rosen graduated from Harvard Law School and served as general counsel and senior policy adviser for the White House Office of Management and Budget from 2006 to 2009. He was general counsel at USDOT from 2003 to 2006.