Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Department of Transportation’

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.

Transit, Amtrak do Well in Budget Bill

May 3, 2017

A proposed federal budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2017 contains funding for public transportation and Amtrak, the American Public Transportation Association reported.

Congress is expected to vote on the budget this week to fund the federal government through Sept. 30.

The FY17 omnibus appropriations bill contains $12.4 billion in funding for the Federal Transit Administration, $657 million above the FY 2016 enacted level.

The transit formula grants total is $9.7 million while about $2.4 billion would go toward “New Starts” funding, including $1.5 billion for current Full Funding Grant Agreement transit projects.

Amtrak would receive a $75 million increase to $1.495 billion.

Also included in the bill is $199 million for positive train control funding authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program would receive $68 million; the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grant program would get $25 million; the Restoration and Enhancement Grants would get $5 million; and the Transit Security Grant program, $88 million.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program would be funded at $500 million.

2 To Get Top U.S. DOT Posts

April 24, 2017

James Ray and Michael Britt are expected to be appointed by the Trump administration to new high-level posts within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Other DOT policy-making posts are expected to be realigned.

Ray will become a senior adviser on infrastructure and head a task force to be appointed to oversee the administration’s expected $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

He is currently a principal at KPMG. He previously worked at the Office of Management and Budget, served as acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, and was a general counsel for DOT from 2006 to 2008.

Britt, who has been the chief of staff for Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, will become senior adviser for Federal Aviation Administration modernization.

Chao Says Infrastructure Plan Will Cut Back Regulations, House Committee Approves Passenger Rail Legislation

March 31, 2017

It’s not the money it’s the red tape. Or so Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao wants everyone to believe is the reason why more isn’t being done to rebuild America’s infrastructure.

Speaking during an open house to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Chao said the Trump Administration’s infrastructure proposal that has yet to be delivered to Congress will include proposals to eliminate regulations.

“Investors say there is ample capital available, waiting to invest in infrastructure projects,” Chao said.” So the problem is not money. It’s the delays caused by government permitting processes that hold up projects for years, even decades, making them risky investments.”

Chao said the Trump infrastructure plan “will include common-sense regulatory, administrative, organizational and policy changes that will encourage investment and speed project delivery.”

Although she did not provide details, that infrastructure proposal will include a “a strategic, targeted program of investment valued at $1 trillion over 10 years,” Chao said.

She said the proposal will cover more than transportation infrastructure. It will also include energy, water and potentially broadband and veterans hospitals.

Public-private partnerships will be a focal point of the plan as a way to avoid “saddling future generations with massive debt.”

In an unrelated development, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure this week approved a bill involving passenger rail.

The committee reported out H.R. 1346, which repeals a rule titled “Metropolitan Planning Organization Coordination and Planning Area Reform.”

In a statement, the committee said the rule exceeds what is required in law, is contrary to congressional intent, and increases burdens on MPOs and states.

The committee said H.R. 1346 maintains MPO and state flexibility in planning and making transportation investments.

Also approved was H.R. 1093, which mandates the Federal Railroad Administration to notify Congress about any initiation and results of passenger and commuter rail comprehensive safety assessments.

Court Sides With Railroads in Amtrak Dispute

March 25, 2017

In the end Amtrak’s freight railroads prevailed in court.

A federal judge ruled in their favor by ruling that Section 207 of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act is unconstitutional and thus the metrics and standards that the Federal Railroad Administration had issued in 2011 in terms of evaluating on-time performance have now been struck down.

The ruling was made by Judge James E. Boasberg based on the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution against the taking of life, libery or property without due process of law.

The Association of American Railroads had filed suit challenging the legality of Section 207.

Boasberg’s ruling was made after the case had been remanded court by the U.S. Supreme Court with instructions as to how to proceed in the case.

Therefore, observers say, it is unlikely that the U.S. Department of Transportation will appeal the ruling.

In his ruling, the judge relied on a precedent set in an 1886 Supreme Court ruling involving Southern Pacific that found that rights granted to people by the Constitution are also granted to corporations.

The court ruled that the regulatory authority of the federal government rests only with individuals appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which is also known as the appointments clause.

The AAR had challenged Section 207, in part, because it allowed Amtrak to have some regulatory power even it is a part of the industry that is being regulated.

In July 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals found that Amtrak is a private company that may not be granted regulatory powers, overturning a May 2012 ruling by the District Court that Amtrak is a governmental entity.

A unanimous Supreme Court in March 2015 ruled that for the purposes of the constitutional clauses in question, Amtrak is a part of the government.

In sending the case back to the district court, the Supreme Court instructed it to rule further on the questions of due process and appointments.

The latest court ruling means that although Congress may lawfully create companies that act commercially within an industry and may also create regulatory bodies, it cannot create entities that do both at the same time.

AAR had asserted that Section 207 allowed Amtrak to do that.

Trump Budget Would Hit Ohio Public Transit

March 20, 2017

The proposed fiscal year 2018 budget submitted to Congress by the Trump administration would put funding-starved public transportation in Ohio in even more dire straits.

“We’re barely hanging on. It’s just going to make the existing problems even worse,” said Kirt Conrad, president of the Ohio Public Transit Association and CEO of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority.

President Donald J. Trump wants to cut the U.S. Department of Transportation budget by $2.4 billion, which is 13 percent.

Much of the adverse effect on public transportation could come from cuts to grant programs that benefit public transit systems.

The New Starts program, which was authorized to fund $2.3 billion in new rail or bus-rapid transit lines or to expand existing lines through 2020, was used by Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s HealthLine on Euclid Avenue.

“It [budget cuts] really potentially cuts future transit expansions in the country in general. It’s not just Ohio; in the whole country, public transit is at risk,” Conrad said. “In Ohio, without the federal support, I do not see those expansions.”

Also slated to be cut is the TIGER grant proram, which has also been used to fund transit in Ohio.

TIGER grants have funded rehabilitation of RTA stations, including the Little Italy-University Circle station and the University-Cedar station.

Two TIGER grants awarded in 2016 funded bicycle infrastructure in Cleveland and Akron.

Ohio transportation officials say the state’s transit systems rely on federal funding because Ohio limits the use of gas tax revenue to road projects.

Further squeezing public transit systems is a coming loss of revenue from a Medicaid MCO sale tax, which had been used for transit funding.

Starting in 2019, public transit systems in Ohio will lose $34 annually from that revenue source.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has proposed increasing state funding for public transportation by $10 million to make up part of the slack being left by the loss of the Medicaid MCO sales tax.

“Access to public transit is just getting worse, not better, in Ohio,” Conrad said.

Although the impact of the proposed Trump budget on highway construction and maintenance funding has yet to come into clear focus, transportation officials say that the loss of TIGER grants will have an adverse effect by removing another source of federal funding.

A $125 million TIGER grant helped pay, for example, for the new eastbound span of the George V. Voinovich (Innerbelt Bridge).

The Trump budget would also shift responsibility for air traffic control from the Federal Aviation administration to an independent, non-governmental organization.

Trump Wants to End Amtrak Long-Distance Train Funding, to Trim Public Transportation Funding

March 16, 2017

Here we go again. Another president has taken aim at Amtrak’s federal funding.

The proposed FY2018 budget released by the Trump administration this week calls for eliminating federal funding of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and would impose other steep cuts in transportation spending.

Amtrak would not lose all funding, but the funding it receives would be focused on supporting services within specific regions, specifically the Northeast Corridor and state-funded corridors in the East, Midwest and along the West Coast.

The budget described long-distance trains as inefficient and incurring the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses.

Trump is seeking to cut the U.S. Department of Transportation budget by $2.4 billion or 13 percent.

If Congress adopts the Trump budget blueprint, DOT will receive $16.2 billion.

Also slated for deep cuts in the budget are Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

Funding of the New Starts program of the Federal Transit Administration will be slashed and limited to projects with existing full funding grant agreements.

In a statement with the budget, Trump said the DOT budget is being revamped to focus on “vital federal safety oversight functions and investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects.”

A statement with the budget request said that the blueprint seeks to reduce or end “programs that are either inefficient, duplicative of other federal efforts, or that involve activities that are better delivered by states, localities or the private sector.”

In a statement, Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman said that Amtrak’s 15 long-distance trains offer the only service in 23 of the 46 states that the carrier .

“Eliminating funding for long-distance routes could impact many of the 500 communities served by Amtrak,” Moorman said.

“These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and state-supported services. Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently  — we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in FY16 — but these services all require federal investment.”

Moorman pledged to work with the Trump administration, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Congress to “understand the value of Amtrak’s long-distance trains and what these proposed cuts would mean to this important part of the nation’s transportation system.”

As for transit funding, the budget blueprint says that curtailing federal funding leaves funding up to “localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”
The American Public Transportation Association issues a statement saying it was surprised and disappointed with the budget details so far.

APTA noted that the administration has been touting a broad plan to spend $1 trillion for infrastructure investment, but “the White House is recommending cutting billions of dollars from existing transportation and public transit infrastructure programs.”

The trade group said the budget cuts would affect projects underway in Kansas City; Dallas; Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville, Florida.

The cuts to the TIGER program is aimed at what the budget described as “unauthorized” projects. In January before Trump was inaugurated , DOT had announced that $500 million was available. The TIGER grants were first awarded in 2009.

Among the 2016 grant recipients are San Bernardino County, California., which received $8.6 million for passenger rail service; Mississippi’s 65-mile long Natchez Railway, which received $10 million for rehabilitation and upgrades for five bridges; and Springfield, Illinois, which received $14 million to build two underpasses for proposed high-speed service between St. Louis and Chicago.

Chao Confirmed as Secretary of Transportation

February 1, 2017

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Elaine L. Chao as the new federal secretary of transportation. The vote was 93-6.

US DOTChao is the only member of the Donald L. Trump administration cabinet to have previously served as a cabinet secretary, having been secretary of labor in the George W. Bush administration.

She drew bipartisan praise during her confirmation hearings and on the Senate floor.

Chao also served as chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission.

Her confirmation was lauded by the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

Both trade associations are expecting Chao to take a railroad industry friendly approach to regulation.

“Ms. Chao has a deep appreciation of critical surface transportation issues. This includes the important role the rail industry plays in this country,” said Edward R. Hamberger, AAR president.

Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia congratulated Chao, saying he looked forward to working with her to strengthen Amtrak. The DOT secretary has a seat on the Amtrak board of directors.