June 22, 2009
House T&I Committee Releases $500 Billion Authorization Proposal; Includes $99.8 Billion for Transit and $50 Billion for High-Speed Rail
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee (T&I) Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) and Ranking Member John Mica (R-FL) announced June 18 the committee’s outline for the next surface transportation authorization bill to replace the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act- A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). This legislation would provide nearly $100 billion for public transportation and $50 billion for high-speed rail as part of $500 billion in total transportation funding.
The bipartisan proposal, coauthored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the Highway and Transit Subcommittee, and John Duncan (R-TN), its ranking member, is titled “A Blueprint for Investment and Reform.” The plan describes the committee’s plans for the forthcoming legislation, which will be introduced as the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 (STAA).
The act includes $99.8 billion for public transportation programs administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)—an increase of more 90 percent over SAFETEA-LU funding levels. It will also recommend an additional $50 billion to support President Barack Obama’s vision for development of high-speed rail corridors in the United States.
The proposal offers a strategic vision recognizing that public transportation should be integral to boosting the economy, promoting energy independence, improving the environment, and providing mobility choices.
“APTA is extremely pleased and commends the committee leadership for its forward-thinking approach,” APTA President William Millar said in a statement. “This funding will be essential to helping to support the doubling of ridership during the next 20 years and begins to address the cost of bringing capital assets into good repair.”
He continued: “We applaud the committee’s efforts to streamline the process for public transportation systems to obtain the necessary federal approvals for new public transportation projects, as well as funding for current transportation needs.”
The proposal, however, does not address from where increased revenues will come to finance the program. This portion of the legislation must be developed by the House Committee on Ways & Means, which will hold a June 25 hearing on transportation needs at which APTA Chair Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D., will testify.
The legislation would also introduce performance standards as a key feature of the federal program. Additional goals of the legislation include bringing transportation assets to a “state of good repair,” improving project delivery, increasing safety, reducing traffic congestion, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving air quality.
The T&I Committee also proposes creating a National Infrastructure Bank to fund large-scale transportation projects, as well as the creation of two multi-modal programs to reduce congestion in major metropolitan areas and fund projects of national significance.
According to the committee’s blueprint, the total $450 billion for surface transportation programs includes a proposed $337.4 billion for the highway program, $99.8 billion for public transportation, and $12.6 billion for highway and motor carrier safety.
With regard to the highway and transit programs, details were not available on the distribution of funds. For highway programs, despite consolidation efforts, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) and Surface Transportation Program (STP) remain largely intact as state and local governments will continue to be able to flex these funds for transit projects at the local level. Changes, however, are proposed to increase sub-allocations to local governments from these accounts, giving them a larger stake in the project decision-making process, which could lead to more funds for transit projects.
Transit Program Structure
The blueprint also indicates that STAA will propose a significant consolidation of transit programs, distributing funds under six major program headings. This is consistent with the overall theme of simplifying the federal program to create efficiency to help speed project delivery and to introduce performance measures. Elements of all of the previous programs, including eligible activities, can be found under the new headings.
The new programs are:
New Starts and Small Starts Program. STAA proposes a greatly simplified New Starts and Small Starts program that will speed project delivery by “eliminating a variety of programmatic steps and requiring program reforms.” In addition, the proposal aims to “equalize the treatment of proposed transit projects and elevate the importance of the benefits that will occur in the community once the project is built.” STAA will prohibit the use of the FTA’s current cost-effectiveness index” (CEI), and replace it with a ratings process that comparably weighs economic development, energy savings, increased mobility and congestion relief.
Fixed Guideway Modernization Program. STAA proposes to simplify the existing fixed-guideway modernization program by eliminating the complex seven-tiered fund distribution formula and replacing it with a single formula based on documented maintenance needs. Communities with a population of fewer than 200,000 will be eligible to participate in the program and recipients will be held accountable for complying with performance measures that emphasize maintaining a “state-of-good repair” for assets.
Urban and Rural Formula Programs. STAA largely maintains the current urbanized area and rural area formula programs, but institutes new performance measures that hold recipients accountable for meeting certain performance targets, such as improved conditions of transit systems, replacement of aged and rolling stock, increased ridership, etc. For small urban areas and rural areas, the funding formula will be modified to award increased funding to areas that provide more transit services.
Coordinated Access and Mobility Program (CAMP). The new proposal would combine the Job Access and Reverse Commute, New Freedom Initiative and Elderly and Disabled Program, into a single initiative in a manner that closely mirrors APTA’s proposal for the programs. The new program would distribute funds via a formula that takes into account low-income, elderly and disabled populations. The CAMP program would distribute 60 percent of funds to designated recipients in large UZAs, 20 percent to small UZAs and 20 percent to rural areas, under a single application. Any of the activities under the three previous programs would be eligible for funding under the new program. The program would institute performance measures to ensure that the needs of each target population are being met, and then set minimum allocations for targeted activities if these measures are not complied with.
Intermodal and Energy Efficient Transit Facilities Program. STAA creates a new program that would combine elements of the Intermodal Facilities Program under SAFETEA-LU and the Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction Grants (TIGGER) program created under American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) earlier this year. Discretionary grants under this program will be made available to transit agencies to build intermodal facilities that connect two or more transportation modes, or facilities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Transit in the Parks Program. STAA will propose to streamline and increase funding amounts for the Transit in the Parks program, which provides grants to increase transit and reduce congestion in and around national parks.
STAA proposes making $50 billion in General Fund revenues available to support the development of a high-speed rail network in the United States. These funds will be available for planning activities and construction in federally designated high-speed rail corridors, as well as for a research program on high-speed rail technologies. High-speed rail will also be eligible for funding through the National Infrastructure Bank.
The T&I Committee has indicated it intends to formally introduce the STAA legislation within the next few days, and has tentatively scheduled a markup for the bill in the Highways and Transit Subcommittee for June 24. Oberstar has indicated that he intends to consider the legislation in full committee in July. However, his ability to move the bill forward in the House will depend on the Ways & Means Committee’s timing on the development of a financing title.
APTA is confident that all parties can work together to achieve a positive outcome. “We are optimistic about working with the committee as we seize the opportunity to truly make the next transportation funding program a transformational bill,” said Millar. “Now is the time to make the critical investments that the nation requires in its public transportation systems, highway infrastructure, and high-speed rail corridors.”
Contact Your Representatives
APTA is urging members to contact their Congressional representatives immediately to tell them of their support of this bill, which dramatically increases investment in public transportation.
Administration Promotes 17-Month Authorization Plan
Following a June 17 session with members of Congress, U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the administration supports an immediate 18-month transportation reauthorization plan that will shore up the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). “If this step is not taken,” he said, “the trust fund will run out of money as soon as late August and states will be in danger of losing the vital funding they need and expect.”
While the shortfall in the Highway Account of the HTF is unrelated to the current balance in the Mass Transit Account of the HTF, if Congress and the administration consider an 18-month extension of surface transportation authorizing law (currently SAFETEA-LU), that legislation would likely extend authorizing law for both the federal transit and highway programs.
In his statement, LaHood called for “critical reforms to help us make better investment decisions with cost-benefit analysis, focus on more investments in metropolitan areas, and promote the concept of livability to more closely link home and work. The Administration opposes a gas tax increase during this challenging, recessionary period, which has hit consumers and businesses hard across our country.”
“I recognize that there will be concerns raised about this approach,” he continued. “However, with the reality of our fiscal environment and the critical demand to address our infrastructure investments in a smarter, more focused approach, we should not rush legislation. We should work together on a full reauthorization that best meets the demands of the country. The first step is making sure that the Highway Trust Fund is solvent. The next step is addressing our transportation priorities over the long term.”