On Wednesday night (February 13), the House Committee on Appropriations filed the Conference Report on H.J. Res. 31, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019”, which provides funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and other departments and government agencies for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2019. Funding for non-essential government activities (including much of DOT) is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Friday night (February 15). The House and Senate are expected to vote on the Conference Report today and/or tomorrow. If passed, the bill would then go to the President for his signature into law. At this point in time, it is expected that the President will sign the bill.
Funding Levels and Grant Awards
The legislation provides more than $16 billion for public transportation and intercity passenger rail, including $13.4 billion for public transportation and $2.6 billion for intercity passenger rail grants. Although these total funding levels are slightly less than the historic FY 2018 funding levels (-$67 million for public transportation and -$218 million for intercity passenger rail), they are significant increases over funding in past years and are:
- $2.0 billion more than the FY 2017 enacted funding levels;
- $1.2 billion more than the FY 2019 FAST Act authorization levels; and
- $3.5 billion more than the FY 2019 President’s Budget request.
To view a table of the public transportation and intercity passenger rail funding included in the bill, please click here.
In addition to these significant funding levels, the bill specifically mandates that DOT provide these funds in an expeditious manner. The bill provides specific timelines for DOT to issue grant notices and awards. For instance, under the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair rail program, the bill directs the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to issue its Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for FY 2019 (and FY 2017 and FY 2018) funding within 30 days of the date of enactment of the bill. It also directs FRA to announce selected projects within 180 days of the date of enactment.
Capital Investment Grants
The bill provides $2.6 billion for Capital Investment Grants (CIG) and requires the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to obligate 85 percent of these funds by December 31, 2020. Of the $2.6 billion, the bill provides $1.2 billion for New Starts, $635 million for Core Capacity projects, and $527 million for Small Starts. The bill also provides $100 million for the Expedited Project Delivery CIG Pilot Program, which is a pilot program with reduced regulatory requirements for projects supported by a public-private partnership and seeking a federal share of 25 percent or less.
In addition, the bill specifically requires FTA to administer the CIG program in accordance with the procedural and substantive requirements of current law (49 U.S.C. 5309). Importantly, the bill prohibits FTA from implementing or furthering new policies detailed in FTA’s June 29, 2018 “Dear Colleague” letter to CIG project sponsors. The Administration’s Dear Colleague letter established geographic diversity as a factor in FTA funding allocation decisions; considered DOT loans “in the context of” all federal funding sources requested by the project sponsor, and not separate from the Federal funding sources; and included other Administration policy objectives. APTA had communicated its serious concerns with the CIG policies outlined in the June 29 Dear Colleague letter to both Congress and the Administration. For APTA’s Summary of FTA’s June 29 CIG Dear Colleague, please click here.
The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program (formerly TIGER) provides competitive grants for surface transportation projects, including public transportation and multi-modal projects. The bill provides $900 million for BUILD grants. The legislation requires that DOT ensure equitable geographic distribution of the funds and investment in a variety of transportation modes. One-half ($450 million) of this funding must be awarded for grants in large urbanized areas (population of 200,000 or more). Moreover, DOT is specifically directed to use the selection criteria from the 2017 NOFO and “not use the Federal share or an applicant’s ability to generate non-Federal revenue as a selection criteria in awarding projects.”
Rail and Bus Manufacturers Supported by China
Finally, the Conference Report does not include a provision prohibiting certain public transit funding from being used to procure rolling stock from a company that receives support from China. Last year, both the House and Senate THUD Appropriations bills included this provision, but it is not included in the Conference Report. Specifically, the Senate provision, included by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), would have prohibited certain federal public transit funding provided in FY 2019 from being used to procure rolling stock from an entity that is incorporated in or has manufacturing facilities in the United States and “receives support” from the government of China. The Cornyn amendment applied to procurements after the date of enactment under the following programs: Urbanized Area Formula grants (§ 5307), Rural Area Formula grants (§ 5311), State of Good Repair grants (§ 5337), and Buses and Bus Facilities grants (§ 5339). It did not apply to Capital Investment Grants (§ 5309). The House THUD Appropriations bill included a similar provision.
Both the Administration and Congress are beginning to develop an infrastructure bill. House T&I Committee Chairman DeFazio has indicated that he intends to develop a bill by May of this year.
The Legislative Conference provides a critical opportunity for APTA members to help us make the case for increased investment in public transportation and intercity passenger rail. We urge you to join us for the APTA Legislative Conference March 17-19.
In addition, we are putting together an incredible program with confirmed speakers that include:
- Keynote Speaker: Bob Woodward, Watergate reporting legend, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and Washington Post Associate Editor;
- The Honorable Derek Kan, Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, U.S. Department of Transportation;
- The Honorable K. Jane Williams, Acting Administrator, Federal Transit Administration;
- Authorizing Committee staffs of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and the House T&I Committee;
- Appropriations Committee staffs of the Senate and House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee; and
- More to come!
DOT Announces $30 Million Funding Opportunity for Passenger Ferry Service
On Monday (February 11), FTA announced a NOFO for approximately $30 million in FY 2019 competitive grant funding for passenger ferry projects nationwide. The Passenger Ferry Grant Program is authorized by Congress to support ferry service on many of the nation’s waterways, and helps to repair and modernize ferry boats, terminals, and related facilities that communities depend on. The application period closes on April 15, 2019.
FTA will award Passenger Ferry grants to states and public entities responsible for passenger ferry projects on a competitive basis. Projects will be evaluated based on criteria outlined in the NOFO, including the need for improvements, demonstration of benefits to transit service, and integration with local and regional long-term planning. To view the NOFO, please click here.
DOT Announces $56 Million in Rail Grants
Last Friday (February 8), FRA announced grant awards totaling $56 million of FY 2018 funding under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program. The funding will improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of intercity passenger and freight rail systems. FRA selected 18 projects in 16 states for these CRISI grants. To view the FRA announcement and projects selected, please click here.
Senate Vote on “Green New Deal” Anticipated
On Tuesday (February 12), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he plans to bring up S. Res. 59, which was released last week, commonly referred to as the “Green New Deal”, for a vote in the Senate. The Resolution calls for, among many other goals, investment in public transportation to combat climate change. To view the Senate Resolution, please click here. Senate Majority Leader McConnell opposes the Green New Deal but he intends to call a vote on the Resolution to put Senators on record in support or opposition to the Resolution. However, at this time, the Senate has not officially scheduled the Resolution for a vote.