By David Bauer, senior vice president of government relations, ARTBA

The Senate Appropriations Committee April 21 unanimously approved legislation, S. 2844, that would increase federal highway investment by $900 million and boost public transportation spending by $575 million in FY 2017.  In addition to adhering to all Highway Trust Fund spending authorized by the 2015 “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act,” the legislation would provide resources for all federal transportation programs.

The highway ($43.3 billion) and transit ($12.3 billion) investment levels would be record amounts.

While the FAST Act authorizes federal highway and public transportation spending through FY 2020, the resources must still be provided during the annual appropriations process and there is no guarantee the law’s investment targets will be delivered.  As an example, the FY 2016 transit capital program appropriation fell $124 million less than the amount authorized by the FAST Act.

Despite the Senate’s approval earlier this week of a two-year aviation program authorization bill that calls for increasing Airport Improvement Program (AIP) investment by $400 million to $3.75 billion in FY 2017, the Senate’s transportation appropriations bill proposes to maintain program funding at $3.35 billion—where it has remained since FY 2012. The Senate proposal would also increase funding for the Obama Administration’s TIGER grant program by $25 million to $525 million. TIGER Grants provide federal general funds for a wide array of multi-modal transportation projects.

In addition to providing resources for the federal transportation programs, the Senate legislation includes limitations—sought for the second consecutive year by ARTBA and AGC of America—on an Obama Administration push to allow state and local governments to impose geographic, economic and other hiring preferences on federal-aid highway and public transportation projects.  The measure will allow the U.S. Department of Transportation to approve such hiring preferences only if the recipient agency certifies: the existence of a sufficient qualified labor pool in the jurisdiction; that no existing workers would be displaced; and no planned projects would be delayed due to associated cost increases.

The FY 2017 transportation appropriations will next be considered by the full Senate.  The House Appropriations Committee is expected to begin advancing its version of the transportation funding measure next month.