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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Transportation funding bill clears subcommittee hurdle


The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation June 12 held a markup hearing for Fiscal Year 2002 Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, at which it approved the $14.9 billion in discretionary resources as requested by President Bush, and $59.1 billion in budgetary resources — $1 million more than the president requested.

Of that, most budget categories would receive substantial increases: highway spending would jump $1.2 billion to $32.7 billion; Federal Aviation Administration, $690 million to $13.3 billion plus provisions to address airline delays.

An additional $88.2 million would be earmarked to "maintain a high level of trucking safety on the border with Mexico," according to an Appropriation Committee-prepared statement. Motor carrier safety grants would increase $29 million to $206 million.

The Coast Guard would receive $486 million more in FY 2002 than it did in 2001, bringing its budgeted amount to $5 billion — although still $59 million shy of its budget request.

Meanwhile, National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak) would receive its requested $521 million — with a waiver allowing it to access those funds on the first day of the fiscal year.

"We applaud the committee’s action today and look forward to continuing to work with Congress and the Bush Administration to invest in a revitalized passenger rail system that helps meet the nation’s transportation needs," said Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer George Warrington in a separate statement.

Transit program spending would increase $493 million to $6.7 billion.

Subcommittee Chairman Hal Rogers said that the legislation includes funding increases to provide Federal Transit Administration with greater oversight and accountability for large projects "that are susceptible to cost overruns, delay or fraud," according to a statement prepared by American Public Transportation Association.

Rogers also noted that although the funds meet guaranteed levels under Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), "resources for good, new projects are severely restrained."

As a result, Rogers said the subcommittee would give preferential treatment to new projects with greater state and local commitment — specifically, those that would keep the federal share to 60 percent or lower. However, the subcommittee also specifically disallows FTA’s proposal to limit to 50 percent the federal share of new full-funding grant agreements. Existing FFGAs would not be affected.

New Starts funding would increase $76.3 million (7.2 percent) and fixed guideway modernization, $80.3 million (7.6 percent), each to $1.14 billion in appropriations.

Having passed subcommittee scrutiny, the legislation still must pass the House and Senate.