As Congress returned from its August recess this week, the House of Representatives continue working toward their version of a long-term surface transportation authorization. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have been engaged in meetings to discuss the details of the Committee bill, however, indications are that another short-term extension is likely needed before the current October 29 deadline. Congressman Shuster noted that a markup would likely happen in late September or early October.
On July 30, the Senate passed a long-term surface transportation bill before leaving for the August recess. For more details on what was included in this legislation, please see our previous APTA Legislative Alert
. While APTA is encouraged by the progress made by the Senate towards a long-term transportation authorization, we continue to urge the House to pass a robust surface transportation bill and proceed to a conference committee to reconcile both chambers' legislation. For more information on APTA's Authorization Recommendations, please visit this link
As the House begins the process of moving an authorization bill in the coming weeks it is important that APTA Members talk to Members of the U.S. House of Representatives from their communities. Please try to communicate, in letters, emails, phone calls or meeting in Washington or your community the following messages:
- Congress needs to pass a multi-year surface transportation bill this year that supports increased investment in public transportation and highway programs, and that bill needs to include a stable source of funding for the Highway Trust Fund and the Mass Transit Account.
- Explain that increased funding is needed in all current programs to bring the current system into a state of good repair, to buy railcars and buses needed to address growing ridership, and to build the new capacity that will serve the nation's growing population in the decades ahead.
- Ask them to maintain current domestic content requirements for rolling stock under Buy America law which have been in place for more than 35 years and which promote the creation of U.S. jobs. Increases in existing domestic content requirements could have the unintended effect of driving companies out of the U.S. market, increasing costs, and negatively impacting innovation and competition while reducing the availability of critical components that can comply with the Buy America rules.
Explain to them how important federal funding is to your capital program, how you serve the people in your community, or in the case of private sector businesses, how many jobs you provide and why the federal transit program is important to your business.
DOT Updates Highway Trust Fund Projections
Just days ago, the Department of Transportation updated their projected estimates for the cash balances of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and the Mass Transit Account (MTA). DOT now projects that both the HTF and MTA will stay solvent until sometime next summer. These new projections are based on the general fund transfer into the HTF at the end of July, coupled with the cyclical nature of the construction season and an increase in vehicle miles traveled due to the record low gas prices which has produced increased revenues.
Some have speculated that the updated projections could lessen the urgency to pass a long-term surface transportation bill before the election year. However, others have stressed the priority that Congressional leaders have placed on passage of a transportation authorization this year, and indicated that the news about the Trust Fund balances will have little impact on action by the House. It is important to also recognize, however, that the funding offsets used to pay for the first three years of the Senate-passed DRIVE Act could be used for other purposes if Congress fails to pass a long-term reauthorization in the near future.
For example if the Senate funding offsets were used instead to pay for a new budget agreement they would be unavailable to use to fund a surface transportation bill. With the vulnerability of the funding offsets, APTA continues to urge the House to quickly pass a long-term reauthorization bill so that they can move to a conference with the Senate.
Fiscal Year 2016 Appropriations
Members of Congress are currently considering how to move forward on the Fiscal Year 2016 Appropriations process, and many in Congress are calling for negotiations to occur on a broader budget agreement. As mentioned above, that debate could rely on funding offsets such as those used to pay for the DRIVE Act. The previous budget agreement, the Bipartisan Budget Act authored by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), adjusted the federal budget caps to prevent the automatic sequestration process, set forward in the Budget Control Act, from being implemented. However that agreement only prevented sequestration for FY 2014 and FY 2015. In order to avoid sequestration for the coming FY 2016, and potentially beyond, a new budget agreement would need to be negotiated, and that deal might require addition funding offsets.
It is unlikely that any of the 12 regular appropriations bills, including the Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill, will be enacted into law soon, so Congress is likely to pass a continuing resolution (CR) this month to keep the government running beyond September 30th, when the current Fiscal Year and appropriations expire. Should Congress fail to pass a CR by September 30th, a federal government shutdown could occur. Political issues, such as funding for Planned Parenthood, approval of the Iran nuclear treaty, renewal of the Export-Import Bank, and other issues unrelated to the regular appropriations process could create significant challenges as Congressional Leaders discuss how to keep the government open. A government shutdown would have a direct impact on the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and its ability to act on transit grants and administration of the program.
Updates on the Federal Deadline for Positive Train Control (PTC) Implementation
Per the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-432) all passenger railroads and certain freight railroads continue to face the approaching deadline of December 31, 2015 to install Positive Train Control (PTC) technology. To date, commuter railroads have spent more than $950 million on PTC installation, yet many railroads have acknowledged they will not meet the federal implementation deadline.
APTA has continued to urge Congress to provide funding for PTC and to extend the installation deadline by granting the Secretary of Transportation authority to extend the implementation deadline for individual agencies on a case-by-case basis. APTA has been in regular contact with key Capitol Hill staff and senior officials at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) providing information on the status of commuter rail PTC implementation nationwide and details regarding the financial, administrative, and technological barriers that have delayed PTC implementation.
In late July 2015, the Senate passed its surface transportation authorization bill which includes several provisions pertinent to PTC implementation. The bill extends the PTC implementation deadline to December 31, 2018 with the mandate that railroads must install all equipment and secure spectrum by this date, with testing and certification to follow. The Senate bill also 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 report these findings to Congress. Lastly, the bill provides some $199 million in funding to support grants and leverage Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program loans for PTC installation. It establishes the "Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement" grant program where safety initiatives, including PTC projects, are eligible for funding and the bill also prioritizes PTC loan applications through the RRIF program.
APTA remains concerned that Congress has yet to address the fast-approaching PTC deadline. Call your Members of Congress, both Senators and Representatives and urge them to quickly pass legislation that:
- Extends the current PTC implementation deadline and/or legislation that grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to extend the deadline for individual railroads on a case-by-case basis;
- Provides funding for at least 80% of PTC implementation costs, including reimbursement of previous PTC installation expenditures; and
Please include in all of your Congressional communications on rail and rail safety details on the barriers and challenges that have delayed your PTC implementation.
Confirmation Hearing Scheduled for FRA Acting-Administrator
On Friday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announced that they will hold a confirmation hearing for FRA Acting-Administrator Sarah Feinberg. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 9:45 am in the Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. For more information on this hearing, or to view her nomination questionnaire, please visit the committee website here