The overwhelming majority of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to be shutdown. During this lapse in appropriations, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is not able to execute grants, cooperative agreements, or contracts. Public transportation agencies do not receive any reimbursements for operating and capital projects during the partial government shutdown. Although President Trump and Congressional leaders have offered different plans to resolve their differences over government funding, border security, and the border wall, no plan has developed the necessary bipartisan support to end the ongoing standoff.
APTA continues to aggressively advocate that the President and Congressional leaders reopen DOT. Last week, APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas and APTA Chair David Stackrow sent a letter to President Trump and Congressional leaders urging them to find common ground and reopen DOT. Based on APTA’s survey of public transportation agencies, the January 18, 2019 letter noted,
More than one-third (36 percent) of public transit agency members indicated that the government shutdown is substantially impacting their operations and/or capital programs. Agencies report cutting back service, delaying hiring, transferring capital funds to operations, using reserve funds, and other direct impacts…. With each passing day, these impacts only get worse.
To view the full letter, please click here. In addition, APTA was a lead signatory to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce letter urging Congress and the administration to restore the full operation of the federal government. To view the U.S. Chamber of Commerce letter, please click here.
House and Senate Introduce Transportation Funding Deal
As part of efforts to resolve the ongoing government shutdown, the House and Senate have separately introduced bills that include full-year fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding for DOT. The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations titles of the two bills are nearly identical and are reported to represent the bipartisan agreement between the House and Senate that was reached last fall but not made public.
On Wednesday (January 23), the House passed the bill (H.R. 648) that included the bipartisan, bicameral THUD Appropriations agreement by a vote of 234 – 180. Yesterday (January 24), the Senate considered a nearly identical THUD Appropriations title as part of its debate on reopening the government and funding the border wall. The Senate did not pass the legislation and it is unlikely to be enacted until the broader government shutdown and border wall funding issues are resolved. However, it does show the likely final THUD Appropriations bill agreement, if Congress does not end up simply passing a full-year Continuing Resolution.
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 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 bipartisan THUD Appropriations agreement (as reflected in H.R. 648) 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 Agreement”. 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).
Houston Light Rail
The one difference between the House and Senate bills is that the House bill does not include a provision prohibiting the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority from proceeding with a light or heavy rail project in a specific corridor in Houston, TX, unless certain conditions are met (e.g., specific local ballot measure approval). This provision is included in the Senate bill. It has also been included in prior THUD Appropriations Acts.