February 16, 2009
Congress Advances Economic Recovery Act; Provides $8.4 Billion for Transit
The long-awaited American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appeared headed for a final vote in both houses of Congress as Passenger Transport went to press, after both chambers passed separate versions in previous weeks and resolved their differences in conference on Feb. 11.
Initial reports indicate that the bill is now $789 billion, which provides a total of $16.4 billion for public transit and high-speed intercity rail. Of this amount, $8.4 billion will be for public transit (including $750 million for New Starts and $750 million for rail modernization); $8 billion will go toward high speed intercity rail.
The Senate’s amended version of the bill had passed that chamber on Feb. 10 by a vote of 61-37. The legislation then went to the House-Senate conference committee, and it now will be sent to each house for a largely formal final vote before being sent to the president for his signature.
APTA President William W. Millar sent letters to the leadership of both conference committees, urging them to:
* Adopt, at a minimum, the $12 billion level for public transportation investment contained in the House-passed economic recovery bill;
* Retain the $8.4 billion for transit formula grants included in the Senate bill;
* Provide the $2.5 billion for New Starts/Small Starts investments included in the House bill;
* Provide the $2 billion for Fixed-Guideway Modernization formula grants included in the House bill;
* Allow transit systems to use a portion of economic recovery funds for operating expenses to halt employee layoffs, service cuts, and fare increases;
* Remove new restrictions on transit formula funds for rural areas and smaller cities.
* Include no less than $2 billion for high speed intercity passenger rail corridors as provided in the Senate bill and $300 million for intercity passenger rail grants (Sec. 4401) as contained in the House bill;
* Retain the Senate’s supplemental discretionary grant program for surface transportation only if public transportation programs receive no less than $12 billion and high speed passenger rail investment receives no less than $2 billion;
* Support the $100 million for public transportation security assistance, railroad security assistance and Amtrak security updates in the Senate bill; and
* Retain the commuter tax benefit included in the Senate bill.
Millar emphasized the importance of public transportation in helping the nation recover from its economic crisis. “Investment in public transportation and high-speed and intercity passenger rail infrastructure will spur immediate job creation and help achieve critical national goals: better access to jobs for workers, reduced fuel consumption from our transportation system, and decreased greenhouse gas emissions,” he noted.
Updates on the legislation will appear on the APTA web site.