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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Senate votes to advance transportation bill; AAR encourages passage of House bill

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to advance its two-year, $109 billion surface transportation bill, known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). The final vote was 85 to 11.

The vote is “a significant step in the right direction,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which passed the bill unanimously in November. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee’s ranking member, is pleased with the “overwhelmingly bipartisan vote” on the bill, which would maintain surface transportation funding at current levels, he said in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) issued a statement yesterday to express support for passage of the House’s version of a surface transportation bill “so that differences with the Senate, such as mass transit funding, can be reconciled and a long-term, fully funded surface transportation bill can be enacted.”

The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (H.R. 7) is a $260 billion, five-year bill. AAR officials called on House members to maintain an amendment in the bill that called for a three-year study of the impact longer and heavier trucks would have on highway safety and infrastructure. AAR officials strongly opposed an earlier provision in the bill that would have allowed states to increase truck weight and size limits.

“The study results should help inform policymakers abut the magnitude of additional funding that longer and heavier trucks would need to contribute to highway and bridge maintenance in order to avoid further cross subsidization from other highway users and the general taxpayer,” AAR officials said in the statement.

In addition, AAR supports a provision to continue dedicated funding for the Section 130 grade crossing program, as well as a provision that would extend the deadline for implementing positive train control.

One key difference between Senate and House transportation funding measures involves mass transit funding. A proposal approved last week by the House Ways and Means Committee would divert $25 billion in dedicated fuel tax revenue from the Mass Transit Account, which represents almost half of the federal government’s investment in public transit, so that gas tax revenue would fund only highways. The Mass Transit Account would be removed from the federal Highway Trust Fund and replaced with a new “Alternative Transportation Account,” which would be funded with a one-time appropriation of $40 billion to cover fiscal years 2013 through 2016.

That proposal would “replace a reliable, ongoing funding source for public transportation investment with a one-time appropriation. This would leave public transportation without any federal funding source beyond 2016, truncating transit’s ability to maintain and grow safe, reliable and equitable mobility options for millions of Americans,” said Michael Melaniphy, president and chief executive officer of the American Public Transportation Association, in a statement issued yesterday.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/10/2012