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American Public Transportation Association

 Senate Releases Surface Transportation Bill

7/21/2015

The Senate Leadership released the details of a comprehensive, six-year surface transportation authorization today that includes a highway title from the Environment and Public Works Committee, a transit title from the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, a rail title from Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and a finance title from the Finance Committee. The bill was taken immediately to the Senate Floor where a cloture vote to proceed to consideration of the bill (which required 60 votes) was defeated by a vote of 41 to 56. At this point, Senate leaders are indicating that an additional cloture vote may take place tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon.

Much of the controversy involved the so-called “pay-fors” or offsets for the general funds that would be deposited into the Highway Trust Fund, including the Mass Transit Account, to pay for programs. Total offsets were estimated to cover only about the first three years of the authorized spending, and many of those offsets were somewhat controversial. Many Democratic senators also expressed concerns over the process by which the bill reached the floor, and expressed concerns that they had not yet had time to review the bill.

This report will provide a very brief overview based on a very preliminary review of the 1,030 page bill. More detailed information will be provided in a subsequent APTA Legislative Alert.

The Senate Banking Committee title to the bill was released as part of the larger bill, but no Committee markup was held. That portion of the bill would increase the authorization for public transportation programs from $10.862 billion in the current year to $11.797 billion in FY 2016, increasing to $13.26 billion in FY 2021. The measure authorizes $4.648 billion for the urban formula program, up from $4.458 billion this year, going to $5.23 billion in 2021. It authorizes a total of $724.8 million for bus and bus facilities in 2016, up from $428 million, going to $815.5 million in 2021. The bus program would include $190 million annually in discretionary funding with the balance under the formula program. It authorizes $2.328 billion for state of good repair grants (SOGR), up from $2.166 billion, and goes to $2.62 billion in 2021. The measure authorizes $2.3 billion for new starts, up from $2.12 billion currently and goes to $2.59 billion in 2021. The measure authorizes a new Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) program at $5 million annually, and $4 million annually for technical assistance and standards development from the trust fund. Additionally, it authorizes General Fund appropriations of $5 million annually for human resources and training, $20 million annually for research and development, and $7 million annually for technical assistance and standards.

The bill also modifies the existing Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Buy America rules. It increases the domestic content requirements for rolling stock from the current 60 percent to 65 percent in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019, and 70 percent in FY 2020 and thereafter. The bill further includes language on innovative and state cooperative procurements.

The Senate Commerce Committee title of the bill, includes a modified version of the text of S. 1732, The Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015, which was previously passed by the Committee. 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 Commerce title 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 Positive Train Control (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.

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 PTC. The Commerce title does not include previous language that would have repealed the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, replacing it with a grant program to fund freight infrastructure projects at a level of $500 million. Instead, it would leave the TIGER program unauthorized, subject to annual appropriations as it currently operates.

Under the Environment and Public Works title of the bill, the measure increases authorizations from a current obligation limitation of $40.256 billion to $42.4 billion in 2016 and about $48.1 billion in 2021.

More details on the bill will follow in future APTA Legislative Alerts.​
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