Senate passes “minibus” with increased transit, passenger rail funds

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor
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A Congressional hearing on WMATA issues will be held tomorrow.
File photo

The U.S. Senate passed a second “minibus” spending package on Aug. 1, which includes increased funding for passenger rail and transit, as well as preserves funding for grant programs utilized by the rail industry.

The $154.2 billion spending package addresses funding during fiscal year 2019 for the Departments of Interior, Treasury, Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The funding provided by these bills will help to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, fight against opioid abuse, make important investments in American agriculture, and promote and support the growth of our economy,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who also serves as chairman of the Senate committee on Appropriations.

The bill includes the following:

  • $2.769 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration
  • $13.514 billion for transit-related activities, which includes $2.55 billion for the Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program and reflects an $800 million general fund increase to FAST Act formula programs.
  • $1.94 billion for Amtrak, $650 million of which is for the Northeast Corridor
  • $1 billion for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants program
  • $255 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Grants
  • $10 million for oversight of Positive Train Control implementation at FRA

Paul Skoutelas, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, praised the Senate’s increase in transit related spending saying it will help public transportation address a $90 billion infrastructure backlog.

“In addition, we commend the Senate for addressing concerns raised by the public transportation industry regarding the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) new policies of the CIG program. The bill, as passed, includes an amendment offered by Senate THUD Appropriations Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) that prohibits FTA from implementing new policies outlined in its June 29 CIG ‘Dear Colleague’ letter. We hope that FTA will use this opportunity to restart the process and engage the public transportation industry in a dialogue to better understand the impacts of any proposed changes to CIG policies,” said Skoutelas.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) issued a statement celebrating the inclusion of an amendment he added to the spending package that would appropriate $50 million to “provide resources for maintenance and safety improvements along the Southwest Chief route.” Amtrak has said it wants to substitute bus service along large portions of the Southwest Chief route.

“As the divide between urban and rural communities in America continues to expand, passenger rail services like the Southwest Chief are invaluable in connecting Kansans to the rest of the country while also bringing visitors from out of state to our local communities,” said Sen. Moran.

The Senate “minibus” is only one step in a long appropriations process. The U.S. House of Representatives, which is in recess during August, and the Senate will need to work on a compromise spending bill. The U.S. House of Representatives has not voted on its version of an FY19 THUD bill, which was voted out of committee in May.


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