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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Senators reintroduce infrastructure investment bill; APTA calls for federal support for transit

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner  (D-Va.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) this week reintroduced legislation to establish a new infrastructure financing authority that would help states and local governments leverage private funds to build and maintain infrastructure.

The Building and Renewing Infrastructure for Development and Growth in Employment (BRIDGE) Act would help to address "the nation's alarming investment shortfall in maintaining the transportation network, water and wastewater systems and energy infrastructure," according to a press release issued by Warner's office.

"The BRIDGE Act offers a bold, bipartisan solution to help address our infrastructure needs by incentivizing private investment and pairing it with public resources," said Warner. "This legislation will set a clear framework that will help create jobs, expand U.S. commerce and trade, and keep American businesses competitive."

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

Under the bill, the authority would receive initial seed funding of up to $10 billion in federal dollars, which would be used to trigger private-sector investment in projects worth $300 billion.

Meanwhile, the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) private-sector business members met this week with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and with U.S. Department of Transportation officials to advocate for "robust public-transit funding" in the federal budget as well as any new infrastructure bill, according to an APTA press release.

In addition, the APTA members also met with lawmakers to fend off threats to public transportation programs as proposed by President Donald Trump's administration.

"The private sector is focused on creating jobs and growing the economy, but it is crucial that we have a federal partner that helps facilitate a safe and efficient national transportation network, of which public transportation is a critical component," said Jeff Wharton, who chairs the APTA Business Member Board of Governors. "Public transportation relieves congestion for goods moving to market, improves individual mobility and allows the national transportation network to operate efficiently."

In his fiscal-year 2018 budget proposal made earlier this year, Trump recommended cutting billions of dollars from existing transportation and public-transit infrastructure programs. He also called for elimination of federal funding for Amtrak's national passenger-rail network.

The Trump administration has advocated the use of federal dollars to spur private-sector investment in infrastructure. Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure plan — which his Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao this week said would be unveiled in the coming weeks — is expected to rely on measures that leverage public-private partnerships, regulatory reform and limited direct federal funding.

However, direct federal funding of public transportation must underpin any new infrastructure plan, said APTA Acting President and Chief Executive Officer Richard White.

"While financing, public-private partnerships and regulatory reform are important, those tools require direct federal funding to be effective," White said. "Using existing public transportation programs is the most efficient way to address our infrastructure needs, create new jobs and boost private sector growth."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/19/2017