Infrastructure Alert - May 28, 2014

The House of Representatives returned to session today, while the Senate is out all week. Last week, both the House and Senate passed the completed version of H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. In addition, last week the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced its surface transportation reauthorization, the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act.

ON THE HILL

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act has passed both the House and the Senate and is awaiting President Obama’s signature. On Thursday, May 22, the Senate passed the conferenced bill by a vote of 91-7, and on Tuesday, May 20, the House passed the bill by a vote of 412-4. The bill authorizes 34 water infrastructure projects as evaluated by the Army Corps of Engineers with offsets from the deauthorization of defunct projects from the previous authorization. Prior to the House’s vote, the CBO released a cost estimate of the conference agreement, estimating that the implementation of the bill would cost $5.4 billion from 2015-2019 and $6.9 billion from 2020-2024, with some spending that continues past 2024. CBO concluded that the deauthorization of the $18 billion in projects from the previous 2007 authorization “would not have a budgetary effect because no additional construction is currently planned for these projects.” The bill also includes the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) five-year pilot program to provide loans and loan guarantees to water infrastructure projects, modeled after the successful Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program.

The House Appropriations Committee advanced its Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies appropriations bill by a vote of 28-21. The committee approved a manger’s package of amendments and defeated efforts by Democratic members to bolster the funding levels. The bill would significantly cut Amtrak and TIGER grant funding, and our last Infrastructure Alert details more on the specific appropriation levels of the bill. The House Rules Committee will determine tomorrow when the bill will be scheduled for floor consideration, and an open rule that would allow unlimited amendments is expected. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies is holding a markup on its appropriations bill on June 3, and the full Appropriations Committee will mark the bill up on June 5.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have introduced S. 2370, the Orphan Earmarks Act. The bill would eliminate Department of Transportation earmarks with at least 90 percent of funding remaining at least 10 years after they were first passed. Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who is running for the Senate seat that will be left vacant by Sen. Coburn, introduced H.R. 4715, a companion bill in the House. If passed, the bill is estimated to remove $120 million in abandoned earmarks and would require the Department of Transportation to report annually on which projects received earmarked funding. An April 29, 2014 Congressional Research Service report prepared for Sen. Coburn details the extent of long-term unobligated earmarks.

On May 21, the Senate passed S. 2086, the Reliable Home Heating Act through a unanimous consent agreement. The bill would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to extend emergency rules permitting the increased transportation of heating oil, natural gas and propane until May 31.

On May 15, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, the bipartisan, six-year, $252 billion surface transportation bill, by a unanimous voice vote. The markup included the adoption of a package of five small amendments, including one limiting funding for bridges outside of the Interstate Highway System. Another amendment in that package from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) would change the funding for University Transportation Centers from the general treasury to the Highway Trust Fund and cut TIFIA funding from $1 billion to $750 million to fund the change. The Senate Finance Committee is still in the early stages of determining the funding mechanisms to pay for the bill.

The MAP-21 Reauthorization Act would fully fund highway programs for six years while maintaining current MAP-21 formulas and increasing amounts each state would receive per fiscal year. The bill would also require the designation of a national freight network, and includes funding for the national freight program, allocating $400 million in FY2016, $800 million in FY2017, $1.2 billion in FY2018, $1.6 billion in 2019, and $2 billion in 2020.

The bill has some significant differences from the Administration’s GROW AMERICA Act. The Senate bill is six years, whereas the Administration bill is four years, and GROW AMERICA funding relies in part on the ability to place tolls on the interstate highways, something the Senate bill does not currently address as the financing aspect has not been worked out.

On June 3, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security will hold a hearing titled “Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Examining the Safety and Effectiveness of Our Transportation Systems.” Witness testimony and streaming will become available here.

AT THE AGENCIES

The Maritime Administration (MARAD) has announced that the former Office of National Security has become the Office of Strategic Sealift, focusing in Federal Sealift, Commercial Sealift and Maritime Workforce.

The sixth round of applications for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants has totaled $9.5 billion spread across 797 eligible applications. The increasingly popular and competitive TIGER program however has only $600 million for this round of funding, and the Department of Transportation received 212 more applications this year than last.

On May 13, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Request for Comments for a rule that would prohibit coercing drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles in violation of FMCSA regulations, particularly the drivers’ hours-of-service limits. Comments can by submitted through August 11, 2014.

IN THE STATES

California: The California High-Speed Rail Authority continued its constant defense of its program and financial plan on May 23 before an appeals court. In November, a lower court blocked the project from accessing the $8 billion in bonds that was approved by the state legislature, contending that a committee did not properly disclose the reasons for financing. Two justices on the appeals court voiced their skepticism regarding the lower court’s November ruling.

On May 21, the federal Department of Transportation announced a total of $2.1 billion in assistance for the Westside Purple Line Extension in Los Angeles. $1.25 billion will be distributed in construction grant funds from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant Program, and up to $856 million is a TIFIA loan. The extension will stretch 3.9 miles and will include three new underground stations and 34 heavy rail vehicles. An additional $680 million will be funded by state and local sources.

Florida: All Aboard Florida, the 235-mile private passenger rail project that would connect Miami and Orlando with stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, has released a study that the project would add $3.5 billion in GDP to Florida’s economy, as well as generate $2 billion in labor income and more than $600 million in all tax revenues over the next 10 years. The study estimates that the first two years of rail-line construction would create more than 10,000 jobs per year, and after 2016, support 5,000 jobs annually through 2021, eventually supporting 2,000 permanent operations jobs.

New York:The Presidential Emergency Board, a group of federal mediators, has sided with the Long Island Rail Road’s union workers as their contract dispute with the Metropolitan Transit Agency continues. The MTA had offered unions a 1.1 percent increase in wages over the next six years, whereas unions are demanding a 17 percent increase. The Presidential Emergency Board mediation is nonbinding, but it lends increased legitimacy to LIRR’s concerns and could push the union closer to striking in July.