Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, on behalf of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill. The work that you do to support federal investment in public transportation and high-speed and intercity passenger rail is crucially important and appreciated.
Along with supporting the appropriations process, APTA looks forward to working with Congress to pass a long-term Surface Transportation authorizing bill this year. The current authorization expires on May 31, and much work needs to be done. APTA has proposed a six-year authorization bill that reflects the need
for substantially increased federal investment in public transportation. Our proposal would give transportation agencies and planners the long-term certainty that they need to move forward with major capital investments in a cost-effective way. Congress must break the cycle of short-term funding fixes because they result in project delays, cancelations, and increased costs. APTA has also called for authorizing legislation that would create a federal program to increase investment in intercity passenger rail, including high speed rail.
APTA is a nonprofit international association of nearly 1,500 public and private member organizations, including transit systems and high-speed, intercity and commuter rail operators; planning, design, construction, and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; transit associations and state departments of transportation.
Overview of FY 2016 Funding Requests
Fiscal Year 2016 is a critical year for the public transportation industry. Federal funding uncertainty continues as the authorization for programs funded by the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is set to expire on May 31. As the committee fully understands, the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund is the primary funding source for Federal Transit Administration programs. Absent congressional action on revenues going into the HTF, the Congressional Budget Office projects that balances in both the Mass Transit Account and the Highway Account will drop to levels below a “minimum prudent balance” this year. If this occurs, the Department of Transportation will have difficulty making payments to states and transit systems in a timely manner.
APTA strongly encourages Congress to take action now to prevent the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. Of the $10.695 billion authorized for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in FY 2014 (the final year of MAP-21’s authorization) $8.595 billion comes from Mass Transit Account. The remaining funds are appropriated from the General Fund for New Starts, Research Programs, TCRP, Technical Assistance, FTA Administration, and other programs.
The work that this Committee does to appropriate funds for FTA programs is vitally important to the industry and our national economy. Capital Investment Grants support necessary development opportunities for growing communities with increasing public transportation demand. Transit research and technical assistance programs require levels of appropriations that are small in relative terms, but lead to considerable improvements in transit services that maximize the impact of federal dollars. APTA urges Congress to appropriate funds for these programs that, at a minimum, are consistent with levels set in the expiring authorization law.
The Continuing Need for Federal Transit Investment
For decades America has been underinvesting in its transportation infrastructure, and the impact is being felt today. Recent estimates of the costs to bring just the existing transit infrastructure into a state of good repair stand at $88 billion, and due to under-investment, that number is continuing to climb. The longer we
wait to address this deficit, the more expensive it becomes. The fiscally prudent approach is to invest in infrastructure now, because deferred maintenance will have major safety implications and result in higher costs and asset deterioration.
Public transportation providers work every day to provide safe, reliable mobility options for Americans, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to fulfill that core mission as aging transit infrastructure in many communities across the nation is being pushed to the limit. Over the last ten years, transit use has grown at
a higher rate than population growth or highway travel, but federal funding has not kept pace. U.S. public transportation systems provided 10.8 billion trips in 2014, which is the highest annual public transit ridership number in 58 years. Many of the largest increases were seen in rural and small urban communities.
These national trends also support APTA’s recommendations for significant growth of capital programs to increase transit capacity, and they underscore the need to bring systems up to a state of good repair.
Public transportation is an essential part of the nation’s transportation network. Transit provides the connectivity and mobility needed to keep the U.S. competitive in the global economy. Without robust investment in public transportation, economic opportunity will decrease; harmful emissions will increase;
our national security will be negatively impacted; seniors, veterans, and other Americans will be unable to get to medical appointments; congestion will harm productivity; workers and businesses will suffer; and American families will lose both time and money, and have fewer transportation options.
Federal Transit Administration Programs
Formula Grant Programs –The core formula grant programs, including the Urbanized Area Formula, Rural Area Formula, Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities, State of Good Repair, and Bus and Bus Facilities, among others, are the foundation of the federal transit program. These programs
are funded by the Highway Trust Fund. Transit agencies in every state of the nation rely on these programs to fulfill their purpose of providing safe, reliable public transportation options in their communities. In order to accommodate increasing ridership numbers and to address the $88 billion state of good repair backlog, APTA’s recommendations for the next authorization bill would significantly increase funding for core formula programs and maintain the balance between core formula and capital investment programs. A significant priority for APTA in the next authorization bill is for Congress to address changes to the Bus and Bus Facilities program. This program was reduced by 57% and was restructured as an entirely formulabased program. For many transit agencies, especially those in rural and small urban communities, this approach has been insufficient to meet capital investment needs. A discretionary aspect to this program is crucial for investments that are large and infrequent, including costs associated with acquiring a new busses or building new facilities. We will continue to work with the authorizing committees to address these priorities.
Capital Investment Grants (New Starts/Small Starts) – Capital Investment 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. This is an indispensable program for increasing capacity to accommodate the
steadily upward ridership trends in communities across the nation. Successful light and heavy rail, commuter rail, streetcar, and bus rapid transit projects bolster local and regional economies and are a factor in attracting investment in American communities that might otherwise go overseas.
The success of major, multi-year capital projects depend on predictable federal funding to honor current and future Full Funding Grant Agreements. The President’s Budget requests $3.25 billion for Capital Investment Grants. APTA’s authorization proposal takes into account the demand for funding in the federal
“pipeline” of projects that have been approved or are under review and recommends significant growth in the Capital Investment Grants program for FY 2016 and subsequent years.
Transit Research/Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP)/Technical Assistance and Standards Development/Workforce Development – APTA strongly urges the committee to fully fund the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP), Technical Assistance and Standards Development, and Human Resources and Training programs. APTA’s legislative recommendation for the next authorization bill proposes funding these programs through a take-down from the urban area formula allocation in the amount of $25 million per year. We ask, at a minimum, that these programs be funded at the levels authorized for FY 2014 in MAP-21. This level of funding is greater than has recently been appropriated, but is justified because the benefits and savings caused by these programs can be much greater than their cost. For example, TCRP leverages industry knowledge and best practices to provide recommendations that result in enhanced safety, better performance and real cost savings for taxpayers.
This year alone, TCRP has published studies on the legal issues of public-private partnerships, practices for establishing ADA paratransit eligibility assessment facilities, and the issues involved in obtaining insurance for large transit projects, to name just a few. For over 20 years, through more than 500 reports, TCRP has provided in-depth knowledge of a system to allow for stronger safety, higher efficiency and better effectiveness nationwide.
With regard to standards development, the industry recently completed a standard to address the protection of all roadway workers conducting work on or near the rail transit systems right-of-way to create a consistent approach throughout the industry. This was in response to a request by NTSB to ensure that programs adequately and effectively address appropriate training, communication, maintenance vehicle movement authorities, flagging procedures, rules compliance and the sharing of a work area by multiple work crews. In creating an industry-wide standard for on-track equipment, worker safety will be a fundamental goal of systems around the country.
Federal Railroad Administration Programs
Federal funding to implement passenger and freight rail safety initiatives and federal support to leverage state and local funding for High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) service are two critical priorities for the industry. Several bills have been introduced and advanced in the 114th Congress to address
various aspects of rail safety and authorize federal investments for passenger rail service. We urge the Subcommittee to strongly consider appropriating funding for rail safety and passenger rail programs.
Positive Train Control – APTA urges the Subcommittee to appropriate funding to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for the Railroad Safety Technology Grants Program, which provides grants to publicly funded commuter rail agencies to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) technologies on their systems. PTC implementation was mandated by the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) of 2008 and specifically requires commuter rail operators to implement PTC systems by December 31, 2015. To date, commuter rail agencies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to comply even as many systems simultaneously face significant state-of-good repair capital costs. APTA’s most recent estimates of the cost of implementing PTC on public commuter railroads has increased to $3.48 billion, not including costs associated with acquiring the necessary radio spectrum or the subsequent software and operating expenses. APTA’s commuter railroads are committed, as a national safety priority, to implementation of PTC, however, additional resources are needed. Congress authorized $250 million for the Railroad Safety Technology Grants Program within Section 105 of the RSIA, however, only $50 million was ever appropriated. APTA urges the Committee to support positive train control implementation by appropriating funding equivalent to the prior authorized level.
High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Investment (HSIPR) – 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). Specifically, APTA recommends an authorization and appropriation of $50 billion over six years to facilitate the development of a national network of high-performance passenger rail systems, funded by a dedicated and indexed federal funding stream and complemented by the use of public private partnerships. APTA also opposes any legislative provisions that limit funding for the development of high-speed and intercity passenger service.
Over the past four years, commuter rail ridership has continued to increase annually. In 2014, commuter rail ridership was slightly below one-half billion trips. Demand for commuter rail and intercity passenger rail service continues to grow, and some systems are expanding existing service and some regions are starting new service. According to the FRA, at least 30 state rail plans and corridor service development plans define the future of passenger rail investments throughout the country. Each project supports economic growth by creating construction and manufacturing jobs for American workers and also enhances local and regional economic expansion as small businesses and residential units are often developed in proximity to new and expanded commuter rail service routes. Additionally, APTA supports safe, efficient, and adequately funded Amtrak service. Amtrak ridership exceeded 30 million trips in FY2014 despite a slow economy. At a minimum, we urge the Subcommittee to restore funding for Amtrak’s capital grants to at least the levels authorized in the recently House passed passenger rail legislation.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the U.S. population will grow by more than 100 million over the next 40 years. Such an increase will overwhelm America's existing transportation network – airways, roads, and our existing rail transportation infrastructure. To meet the demands of a growing and highly mobile
population, the United States must develop and continually expand a fully integrated multimodal highspeed and intercity passenger rail (HSIPR) system. Investing in infrastructure ensures the efficient movement of people and goods that is essential to continued economic growth and other national policy goals.
We thank the subcommittee for allowing us to share our recommendations on FY 2016 public transportation and high-speed and intercity rail appropriations issues. APTA looks forward to working with the Committee to grow and improve federal public transportation programs. This is an important year for public transportation, and your support will be crucial to increase mobility and opportunity, grow the economy, and ensure that public transportation services can be provided in a safe and reliable manner.