Infrastructure Alert - May 12, 2014

Last week, the Water Resources and Development Act conference committee officially reached an agreement, but the text is still forthcoming. The Department of Transportation has released its own surface transportation reauthorization bill, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will release the text of its bill today ahead of a Thursday mark up.

ON THE HILL

The Water Resources Development Act conference committee has reportedly reached an agreement reconciling S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, and H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013. The conference committee has been working on an agreement for nearly six months. The conference bill reportedly adopts the House bill’s method of authorizing specific projects, instead of the Senate version’s approach that allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to determine which projects should be funded.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee surface transportation reauthorization bill will be released today via press release, and the committee will mark it up on Thursday, May 15. The bill is expected to be a six-year bill, and, like the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), its spending level are expected to be current spending levels adjusted for inflation.

On May 7, Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) introduced H.R. 4601, the Deficit Reduction for Infrastructure, Value, and Efficiency Now Act of 2014 (DRIVE Now Act). The bill would, among several other provisions, appropriate $5 billion to the High Way Trust Fund from the Treasury to ensure solvency through the fiscal year.

On May 7, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies marked up its appropriations bill without amendment. The transportation component of the bill appropriates $17.1 billion, $727.3 million below the FY2014 enacted level and $5.8 billion below the President’s budget request. The bill includes $40.25 billion for the Federal Highway program, equal to last year’s appropriation. The bill would fund the Federal Aviation Administration at $15.7 billion, $7.3 billion lower than FY2014 enacted; this includes $852.4 million for the Next Generation Air Transportation Systems (NextGen) and $140 million for funding Contract Towers. The bill funds the Federal Railroad Administration at $1.4 billion, $193 less than the FY2014 enacted level, which includes $340 million for Amtrak operations, $850 million for capital grants, and no funding for high-speed rail. The bill funds the Federal Transit Administration at $10.5 billion, $53 million below the FY2014 enacted level, which includes $8.6 billion in transit formula grants consistent with MAP-21, and $1.7 billion for Capital Investment Grants. The bill would fund the Maritime Administration (MARAD) at $305 million, a decrease of $72 million from FY2014 enacted. The bill also funds National Infrastructure Investment grants, also known as TIGER grants, at $100 million, which is $500 million below the FY2014 enacted level and prohibits their use for so-called non-essential purposes, such as bike and pedestrian paths.

On May 6, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced H.R. 4576, the Rail Safety Enforcement Act. The bill would direct the Secretary of Transportation to develop and implement a fatigue management plan, with which railroad carriers would be required to comply. The bill would also require that railway operators to report on their progress towards implementing Positive Train Control, which is required by 2015.

As a seeming direct rebuttal to House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster’s H.R. 4156, the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced S. 2290, the Real Transparency in Airfares Act of 2014. The bill would double the fine to airlines and ticket sellers that fail to disclose the total cost of a ticket, taxes and fees included, upfront, from $27,500 to $55,000. Chairman Shuster’s bill that passed in his committee, by contrast, would allow airlines to advertise the cost without fees and taxes.

On May 1, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced S. 2275, the Transit-Oriented Development Infrastructure Financing Act. The bill would lower the current $50 million project minimum for TIFIA loans and loan guarantees to $10 million for transit-oriented development projects so that more transit projects can qualify for financing.

The Department of Transportation unveiled its surface transportation reauthorization bill, the Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America Act (GROW AMERICA ACT). The $302 billion bill substantially increases funding for several modes of transportation. Over four years, the bill would authorize $199 billion for the National Highway System and road safety, $72 billion for transit systems, $10 billion for a new multimodal freight grant program to fund rail, highway and port projects, $19 billion for rail, $5 billion for TIGER grants, $4 billion in competitive highway and transit grants called Fixing and Accelerating Surface Transportation (FAST), and $4 billion for TIFIA. The bill funds these programs, in part, through $150 billion in one-time revenue through corporate tax reform.

The GROW AMERICA bill notably includes rail, which congressional proposals are not expected to do. The bill would also allow states to place tolls on existing Interstate Highways, with the Department of Transportation’s approval. Pilot programs in Virginia, North Carolina and Missouri have been given the authority to implement tolls by the Federal Highway Administration, though none of these programs have officially started.

On May 13, the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife will hold a hearing titled “Solving the Problem of Polluted Transportation Infrastructure Stormwater Runoff.” Witnesses have not been announced, but their testimony will be available here.

On May 21, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation will hold a hearing titled “Using New Ocean Technologies: Promoting Efficient Maritime Transportation and Improving Maritime Domain Awareness and Response Capability.” Witnesses have not been announced, but their testimony will be available here.

AT THE AGENCIES

The Department of Transportation has warned states as to what will happen if the Highway Trust Fund balance falls too low, which it is projected to do before MAP-21 expires. Under the Antideficiency Act, the Highway Trust Fund cannot disburse funds if such disbursement would create a deficit in the fund. As such, the Department of Transportation may slow or halt disbursements for many or all projects as early as July.

INTHE STATES

On May 8, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released a report detailing 10 states with gasoline taxes at an all-time low: Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, New Jersey, South Carolina, Utah andVirginia.

California: On May 7, the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced its approval of the 114 mile, Fresno-to-Bakersfield section. The estimated cost of California’s high-speed rail, however, continues its upward creep. In a 2011 environmental report, the 114-mile section was estimated to cost $6.19 billion. Now, with a new report from an engineering firm commissioned by the state, the cost is estimated at $7.13 billion due to higher costs for tracks, structures, land purchases, signals and electrical systems.

New York / New Jersey: Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie have created a Special Panel on the Future of the Port Authority to evaluate the port authority’s role and consider reforms. The panel will include the sitting Port Authority commissioners and an additional representative from each governor’s office.

Virginia: The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved a $1.9 billion TIFIA loan for the Silver Line extension, the largest loan that it has approved. The loan was given to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Fairfax County and Loudon County, and totals roughly one-third of the cost of the Silver Line. Virginia has allocated $300 million for the project, and with the TIFIA loan, tolls will not need to increase on the Dulles Toll Road in 2015.