On Monday, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives to extend the authorization of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) programs through December 18, 2015 at current spending levels. The legislation would transfer a total of $8.07 billion into the HTF, paid for over the next decade by a combination of tax compliance provisions, aviation security fees and reduced spending measures. The bill allocates $6.07 billion for the Highway Account and $2.0 billion for the Mass Transit Account. House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has advocated for a short-term extension to give time for a larger tax reform package that could fund a six-year bill, which House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) has also supported.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated that he supports achieving a long-term bill before the current authorization deadline of July 31, however, he has not publicly announced the proposed funding mechanism yet. Senate Democrats have indicated that they are waiting to see the details of Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s plan before making a decision on whether to support the long-term bill strategy, or support the House extension which depends on an agreement on tax reform being achieved before the end of the year to fund a long-term authorization bill.
Senate Commerce Committee to Mark-Up Comprehensive Rail Bill
On Wednesday, July 15th, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is scheduled to hold a mark-up of S. 1732, The Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015. In addition to the surface transportation provisions in the Committee’s jurisdiction, the legislation incorporates S.1626, The Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act, which was approved by the Committee on June 25, 2015.
The bill authorizes $6.6 billion in Amtrak funding for FY2016 to 2019 and $2.28 billion for grants to rail agencies. The bill would modify the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to prioritize applications that support the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC).
The bill includes a substantial rail safety title including mandates for speed limit and grade crossing action plans and installation of speed warning signage and alerters. It encourages the voluntary use of confidential close call reporting system programs, requires all passenger railroads to install inward- and outward-facing cameras in all controlling locomotive cabs and cab car operating compartments and authorizes the Secretary to require the installation of audio recording devices. The bill also extends the deadline for PTC implementation to December 31, 2018. Railroads would have to install all equipment and secure spectrum by this date, with testing and certification to follow. The bill requires the Secretary of Transportation to coordinate with the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to assess the spectrum needs and availability of spectrum for implementing PTC and to report to Congress on their findings. Further, the legislation also increases the liability cap from its 1997 level from $200 to $295 million, adjusted every ten years for inflation, but, it does not establish a mandatory minimum for insurance coverage.
S.1732 also includes sections authorizing several commercial motor vehicles/drivers, hazardous materials, and highway and motor vehicle safety programs. In addition, it increases the emphasis on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) highway safety grants, which would allow states to assess their own unique safety challenges on a more independent basis. The Commerce bill also repeals the TIGER grant program, replacing it with a grant program to fund freight infrastructure projects at a level of $500 million.