House panel approves $278 billion to fund transportation department

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WASHINGTON — A House appropriations subcommittee on May 16 approved $27.8 billion for operations of the Department of Transportation in fiscal 2019.

While the vote was unanimous, Democrats warned that “hidden” amendments lurked in the background that could derail the committee's bipartisan spirit. Among them is one to increase truck size and weight, something vigorously opposed by railroads, and safety and infrastructure advocates.

The subcommittee approved $520 million more than what the department received for 2018, and $22.7 billion more than President Donald Trump's 2019 budget request, according to a committee briefing sheet.

Funding for the Federal Railroad Administration includes:
• $1.9 billion for Amtrak, including $1.3 billion for long-distance routes,
• $500 million for the Federal-State Partnership for Good State of Repair,
• $262.3 million for rail safety and research,
• $150 million for the development of magnetic levitation systems.

The bill prohibits spending for California's high-speed rail system, and requires Amtrak to reduce employee overtime costs.

For the Federal Transit Administration, the bill allocates:
• $2.6 billion for Capital Improvement Grants, enough to fund ongoing programs, and an additional $1 billion for new programs
• $800 million for infrastructure grants, with $200 million more for good state of good repair programs,
• $150 million for the Washington Area Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In all cases, funds the committee approved exceed the president's budget request. The bill now goes to the full House Appropriations Committee for approval, where members may try to add “non-appropriations” riders.

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said it was unfortunate that “the majority has chosen to include harmful policy riders that have repeatedly been stripped from previous bills.

“Provisions to increase truck weights ... make our roads less safe and have no place in an appropriations bills,” Lowey said. “Just like every year, Democratic votes will be needed to enact an appropriations law, so I hope we will soon work together to improve this bill.”

More information is available online.
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