The US transportation budget: A tale of two committees

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WASHINGTON — Actions by two U.S. House of Representatives committees over the past two days show that not all Republicans are in lockstep with President Donald Trump's proposed budget cuts for the Department of Transportation.

On Tuesday, July 18, the House Budget Committee approved a budget resolution for fiscal 2018 that gives the president what he wants for cuts in rail and transit programs. However, the night before, the House Appropriations Committee approved modest increases over the budget proposal, but still less than what the transportation department received in 2017.

The president's budget would provide no funds for new-start projects under the Federal Transit Administration's Capital Improvement Grant program. The appropriations committee recommended $1.7 billion for the grant program, $52-million more than the White House request. Included is $900 million the committee set aside to begin work on a new tunnel under the Hudson River, the most critical part of Amtrak's Gateway program.

“The Committee supports the President’s commitment to invest in infrastructure, and therefore maintains its position to recognize the need for a robust Capital Investment Grant Program,” according to a committee report.

In its summary, the Budget Committee said that the grant program would receive no new start money because transit programs are “activities [that] produce local, not national, benefits.”

The American Public Transportation Association was quick to respond.

“The Budget Resolution proposes devastating cuts at a time when the federal government should be investing more, not less, in the nation's transit and rail infrastructure," said APTA Acting President Richard A. White.

"This proposal is puzzling since this Congress has already rejected the [grant] cuts as recent as last night," referring to the appropriations committee's bill.

The budget committee supported the president's call to eliminate subsidies for Amtrak's long-distance trains. Its summary states: “Federal subsidies have insulated the National Railroad Passenger Corporation [Amtrak] from becoming self-sufficient, and they commit taxpayers nationwide to underwriting the commutes, recreation, and other trips for a fraction of the traveling public.”

Members of the Appropriations committee recommend $1.1 billion for Amtrak's national network, and $328 million for the Northeast Corridor, a total of $668-million more than requested by the administration. The appropriations bill also provides $500 million for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair. It's a program authorized by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, but never funded before. The partnership will begin to address a $38 million backlog in Northeast Corridor repair and maintenance.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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