An agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators contains mixed results for those who favor federal spending on urban initiatives and rail transportation.
"The conference agreement between the two chambers preserves funding for transit and the innovative TIGER grants program, while zeroing out high-speed rail," says Sean Barry of the advocacy campaign Transportation for America.
Among the decisions reached by negotiators are these:
• The negotiators have agreed that the TIGER program will get $500 million. That represents a 5.1 percent cut from current levels, but it is a significant improvement over the House proposal, which would have eliminated the program."
"Every round of grant applications for TIGER has yielded far more interest from communities that USDOT has been able to accommodate, and the program rewards projects that meet local needs," Barry said in a T4America press release. Streetsblog is reporting that the third round of TIGER applications outstrips the available grant amount by 27 to 1." TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) is an Obama administration program that has been supplying grants for transportation infrastructure, including rail transit.
• The Federal Transit Administration will receive a total of $10.608 billion.
• The New Starts program, a key source of funds for transit projects, especially in large metropolitan areas, will receive $1.95 billion.
• New spending on high-speed rail, which has run into strong Republican opposition, will be eliminated.
• Amtrak will receive $466 million for operating expenses and $952 for capital projects. This is less than the Senate requested but much higher than the sum proposed by the House of Representatives.
• Traditional highway funding under the Federal Highway Administration will be $39.143 billion. That's slightly less than current levels.
• Funding is eliminated for the Sustainable Communities Initiative (the Department of Housing & Urban Development's contribution to the interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities).
Geoffrey Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America, said the Sustainable Communities Initiative "has helped reduce transportation costs for families and improve access to jobs by supporting communities with a variety of transportation options. The Initiative has helped reduce transportation costs for municipal governments by making use of existing infrastructure. And the Initiative has helped eliminate obstacles between the three agencies [HUD, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency], helping the federal government run better and more efficiently."
The result of the conference report is that the Initiative will not have funds with which to make grants, Anderson said. He noted that conferees "expressed strong support for the Partnership's work," and he said he hopes the program will be provided with funds in next year's budget.
The recommendations are in a "minibus" measure, which combines several appropriations bills into one package. Barry said, "Both chambers will need to pass the 'minibus' agreement by Friday to avoid a government shutdown. With bipartisan sign-off on these funding levels, passage is almost assured."