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Rail News: Passenger Rail

House subcommittee advances appropriations bill; Senate committee approves SAFETEA-LU extension measure


Last week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations marked up the annual appropriations bill, which would provide $10.5 billion for federal transit programs and $4 billion for high-speed rail (HSR) in fiscal-year 2010. Final House passage is expected by month’s end, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

“Senate consideration will most likely begin once Congress reconvenes after the upcoming August recess,” APTA officials said in a legislative update.  

The bill would provide $10.3 billion for existing transit programs, a $101 million increase compared with the last fiscal year’s level and consistent with President Obama's FY2010 budget request, APTA said. The legislation also would appropriate $150 million to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — the first installation of a 10-year, $1.5 billion dedicated funding authorization for the agency through the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

In addition, the bill would provide $1.8 billion for Capital Investment or New Starts grants, up 1 percent vs. FY2009 levels, and appropriate $3 billion more for HSR than President Obama’s FY2010 budget request, APTA said.

Also last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee marked up the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2009, which proposes an 18-month extension to SAFETEA-LU. The bill would authorize spending for highway programs through March 2011, and provide $41 billion in FY2010 and $20.5 billion for FY2011’s first half, APTA said.

However, the legislation does not include funding levels for transit or rail programs for the 18-month period, according to the association. Funding for those programs would need to be added by the Senate Banking and Senate Commerce committees.

The U.S. Department of Transportation supports the 18-month extension, which will be considered by the full Senate soon. But the extension faces strong opposition in the House, where Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) firmly backs a six-year authorization, APTA said.

“An 18-month extension will put us into a next presidential election cycle. It will take four years to finish, not a year and a half,” Oberstar said in a statement issued July 15. “I know how Congress works. Inertia becomes the enemy of progress.  We are ready to move and we should move now.”

APTA sent a letter to Oberstar expressing support for the passage of a long-term authorization bill.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/20/2009