By Dean Franks, senior vice president of congressional relations, ARTBA
President Donald Trump has signed the $1.3 trillion, Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 appropriations package that includes increases for key federal surface transportation improvement programs. These programs have been operating at FY 2017 funding levels through a series of continuing resolutions (CR) since last fall.
Trump briefly threatened to veto the package with only hours remaining until the CR expired at midnight March 23.
The increased infrastructure investment became possible in early February when Democrats and Republicans in Congress reached a two-year budget agreement. Their deal increased defense and non-defense spending by over 10 percent for both FY 2018 and FY 2019. While spending increases for the transportation programs were expected, how the money would be divided was not clear until now.
This chart details the increases:
|Core Transportation Programs|
|Program||FY 2017||FY 2018||$ Increase||% Increase|
|(in Billions $)|
|FAST Act Highway (HTF)||$43.27||$44.23||$3.49||8%|
|Additional General Fund||$2.53|
|FAST Act Transit Capital (General Fund)||$2.30||$2.30||$0.15||6%|
|Additional General Fund||$0.20||$0.35|
|Airport Improvement Program (Aviation Trust Fund)||$3.35||$3.35||$1.00||30%|
|Additional General Fund||$1.00|
|TIGER Grant Program (General Fund)||$0.50||$1.50||$1.00||200%|
The highway programs will receive an 8 percent increase above FY 2017 funding levels, totaling $46.76 billion. Beyond the FY 2018 FAST Act-authorized Contract Authority of $44.23 billion, there is also $2.53 billion in spending for various initiatives, including $320 million for federal/tribal highways; $1.98 billion for highways, bridge and tunnel projects distributed under the same formula as the Surface Transportation Program Block Grants; and $225 million for a rural state competitive grant program for bridge projects.
The transit programs would receive $13.21 billion. The FAST Act-authorized $9.73 billion in formula grants via the Highway Trust Fund’s Mass Transit Account is augmented with an additional $834 million from the General Fund. The transit capital program received an additional $150 million beyond the FY 2017 level, most of it in New Starts funding.
The $2.65 billion for transit does not direct any money to the Gateway projects, including a tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York. Such funding was included in the House Appropriations bill, but President Trump, in an ongoing feud with Democrats, opposed its inclusion in the final package. Project supporters noted some of Amtrak’s $1.94 billion program total could be used for Gateway improvements.
Federal Aviation Administration programs have been operating under a series of extensions for several years, resulting in flat construction funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). The proposed $1 billion AIP funding increase for FY 2018 is the most significant hike since the 2009 American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA), or “stimulus law.”
The additional airport funding is a major victory, and something ARTBA has pushed for years.
The omnibus did not, however, incorporate an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), a user fee airports can charge air travelers to raise funding for capital improvements. The Senate transportation appropriations bill passed out of committee in 2017 proposed raising the PFC to $8.50 from the $4.50 level in place since 2000. The omnibus includes a six-month extension of the aviation programs, which will give House and Senate negotiators more time to complete a multi-year bill.
During that process, ARTBA and its coalition partners will continue to push for an increase in the PFC to help boost long-term investment in airport construction.
The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program is set for a 200 percent increase to $1.5 billion from $500 million. The popular discretionary grant program, created in the ARRA, provides multi-modal project funding on a competitive basis to states and localities. The $1.5 billion total matches the first round of funding in 2009.
Highway Trust Fund Fix Remains Paramount
One final observation: While the increase in surface transportation investment is a positive step, it in no way lessens the need for Congress and the president to take action this year on a long-term infrastructure package with a permanent Highway Trust Fund (HTF) solution as its centerpiece. This remains the most pressing legislative priority for ARTBA and its coalition partners.