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

In a contradiction befit only to the policymaking process found on Capitol Hill, a House panel July 11 approved a measure to fund the nation’s federal transportation programs in FY 2018 that both adheres to and violates the commitments Congress made in passing 2015’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act surface transportation investment law.

The legislation, passed by the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, would boost core federal highway investment by $968 million to a record $44.23 billion—as directed in the FAST Act.

While the legislation would provide the $9.73 billion authorized by the FAST Act for the main transit formula grant program, it would also cut by $650 million the transit Capital Investment Grants program, which supports transit construction projects. The bill is consistent with President Trump’s call to constrain all transit capital grant spending to projects that have already been approved by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). But, it also includes a creative effort by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and others to deliver $900 million for a joint rail/transit project that serves New York and New Jersey; known as the “Gateway Program.”

The FAST Act authorizes $2.3 billion in general funds (as opposed to Highway Trust Fund resources) for the Capital Investment Grants program. The Trump Administration’s FY 2018 budget proposal requests only $1.2 billion for the program. The House transportation appropriations bill would provide $1.75 billion, but $400 million of that amount would be directed toward a program that was set up in the FAST Act to support joint rail/transit projects such as the Gateway Program.  The legislation would also provide an additional $500 million for the program from accounts within the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to further fund the Gateway Program.

Directing funds to a program designed to support such a unique project enables members of Congress to claim they have not violated their earmark prohibition.

Under the Trump and House appropriations proposals, the 10 transit capital projects anticipating full funding grant agreements from the FTA in California (2 projects), Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Indiana, Minnesota, Texas (2 projects) and Washington would not receive any funds in FY 2018.

The measure would also eliminate funding for the TIGER multi-modal discretionary grant program launched under the Obama Administration.  While House appropriators have routinely zeroed out these funds, it should also be noted the $500 million in savings from this action is identical to the additional FRA funds dedicated to supporting the Gateway Program.

The Airport Improvement Program, which supports runway and other airport capital projects, would receive $3.35 billion—the same level of funding at which the program has been held since FY 2012.

The table below summarizes key program funding levels in the House appropriations measure:

  FY 2017 Enacted FY 2018 House Proposed
Highways $43.27 billion $44.23 billion
Transit Formula Grants $9.73 billion $9.73 billion
Transit Capital Investment Grants $2.4 billion $1.75 billion
AIP $3.35 billion $3.35 billion
TIGER Grants $500 million $0

ARTBA will continue pushing Congress to provide at minimum the levels of highway and public transportation investment authorized by the FAST Act.  We will keep you posted as the House process moves forward and as details about the Senate plan become available.