Dear Chairman Cochran and Ranking Member Mikulski:
On behalf of the more than 1,500 member organizations of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), I write to you to express our priorities for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 bill funding the Department of Transportation.
APTA appreciates what the Senate and House Appropriations Committees were able to accomplish under the tight budget limitations that constrained the development of the respective bills. We are also hopeful that the committees will have an opportunity to better address transit industry priorities under the recently adopted budget agreement. Among our chief concerns with previous bills were the underfunding of Capital Investment Grants, the Transit Cooperative Research Program, and passenger rail.
We support the funding of Capital Investment Grants (New Starts/Small Starts) at the highest possible levels. These grants are the primary source of federal investment in the construction or expansion of heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit and ferryboat projects. The ability for systems to expand or grow, in the face of a growing demand for high capacity service, is dependent on these funds. With public transportation ridership at a 58 year high of 10.8 billion trips in 2014, the ability to respond to this increasing demand is essential to keep our communities moving efficiently.
The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) is an applied research program that provides solutions to practical problems faced by transit operators. Through this national program, transit agencies are able to operate more efficiently and at less cost, by sharing experiences and best practices throughout the industry. This program over the past 20 years of its existence has produced more than 500 publications that have greatly benefitted the public transportation community. For example, the commuter rail industry response to the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) establishing requirements for radio spectrum to enable Positive Train Control (PTC) deployment was facilitated by a TCRP study. This program was funded at a level of $3 million in FY 2015, 70 percent below its pre-2012 level of $10 million. Underfunding this program will make it nearly impossible for TCRP to conduct the extensive research which has benefitted the industry for two decades. APTA requests that TCRP be funded at no less than $5 million to provide the minimum needed to continue to produce this important research.
APTA continues to support robust new funding for high speed and intercity passenger rail service through a distinct reauthorization measure to succeed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA). We also oppose provisions that limit funding for the development of this service. The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, which passed the House by a vote of 316 – 101, authorized $300 million for state grants to expand and improve intercity rail. Without appropriations, however, 32 state projects continue without a Federal partner. Investment in a multi-modal system is essential to dealing with the growth that are nation is and will continue to experience.
Additionally, Congress recently agreed to extend the deadline contained in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 for implementation of positive train control on our nation’s railroads. APTA supports this action by Congress to provide more time for commuter and freight railroads to implement this life saving technology. However, many challenges still remain, including the substantial implementation costs for publicly funded commuter railroads. We urge the conferees to use this opportunity to provide funding to help commuter railroads in meeting this new deadline.
Finally, we support language (with modifications) included in Sec. 199C of the Senate Appropriations Committee mark, that would provide greater clarity on how and when the Department of Transportation may use funds to implement a program for geographic, economic, or any other hiring preference.
Thank you for your consideration of our priorities on the FY 2016 Appropriations bill. We look forward to continuing to work with you to expand and improve access to public transportation in communities throughout the nation.