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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Obama administration sends four-year transportation bill to Congress


Yesterday, President Barack Obama sent a four-year, $302 billion transportation plan to Congress that aims to shore up the Highway Trust Fund as well as address the nation's aging infrastructure and future transportation needs.

Dubbed the "Grow America Act," the proposed surface transportation reauthorization legislation would prevent the Highway Trust Fund from running out of money this summer, address the nation's crumbling roads and bridges, increase safety across all modes of surface transportation, reduce project approval and permitting timelines, bolster freight networks, address bus and rail state-of-good repair backlogs, and invest in passenger rail.

"I visited eight states and 13 cities as part of my Invest in America, Commit to the Future bus tour this month and everywhere I went, I heard the same thing – people want more transportation options and better roads and bridges to get them where they need to go," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a prepared statement. "Failing to act before the Highway Trust Fund runs out is unacceptable – and unaffordable. This proposal offers the kind of job creation and certainty that the American people want and deserve. I have been pleased to see that members of both parties are already working together to solve these challenges, and I look forward to continuing our discussion and to supporting and building on the good work that's already been done."

The bill would provide a one-time infusion of $150 billion to shore up the Highway Trust Fund and would provide $19 billion over the next four years for intercity passenger rail, including Amtrak service and positive train control investments, according to an American Public Transportation Association (APTA) analysis.

Among other things, the Grow America Act would:
• commit more than $72 billion over four years to address transit needs, including a $5.1 billion increase in fix-it-first investments to address public transit's maintenance backlog;
• provide $10 billion in grants over four years for targeted investments in the nation's transportation system to improve the movement of freight. The grants would be awarded for projects identified by states, communities and ports working in collaboration with shippers, truckers, maritime providers, railroads and other transportation stakeholders; and
• provide $2.35 billion to assist with the implementation of positive train control on commuter rail. The act also would strengthen federal authority to regulate hours of service to prevent fatigue among rail employees.

The bill's full text is available here.

Several associations and organizations with an interest in transportation responded to the administration's Grow America proposal.

APTA President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy praised the proposal for increasing federal surface transportation investment, fixing the impending shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund and calling for substantial investment in intercity passenger rail.

"The administration's proposal would help address the large backlog of state-of-good-repair needs related to bus and rail transit and help expand the public transportation infrastructure to meet the growing demand," he said in a prepared statement. "Clearly, people want better transportation options and it should be a national priority to expand public transit services, including intercity passenger rail."

Also voicing support for the Grow America plan is former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who served during Obama's first term and is now co-chair of Building America's Future.

"Our nation’s economy relies on its roads, bridges, rails and runways. President Obama's plan to upgrade and modernize these systems is just what the doctor ordered," he said. "Congress must now do its part to pass this legislation so that the states receive the money necessary to maintain and improve these essential transportation networks. Our economic future depends on it."

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Executive Director Bud Wright praised the Obama administration for sending legislation to Congress that would invest in infrastructure.

"We support finding a long-term, sustainable source of revenue to support surface transportation investment," he said. "While we may not agree with all aspects of the administration's proposal, we look forward to the continuing dialogue with Congress and the administration on charting America's transportation future."

Meanwhile, Competitive Enterprise Institute transportation policy expert Marc Scribner was more critical. Bailing out the Highway Trust Fund would violate "the long-standing user-pays/user-benefits principle in a way that merely kicks the fiscal can down the road," he said in a prepared statement.

"The administration's priority on low-value/high-cost mass transit and other so-called alternatives, such as federally funded bike paths, demonstrates an inability to prioritize smart projects over gimmicks aimed solely at pleasing fervent and out-of-touch special interests," Scribner said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/30/2014