The House and Senate have agreed on a conference report for the federal transportation budget. (You can read the summary online.) The bill needs to pass Senate and will probably be signed by the end of the year. The high-level overview, which contains plenty of transit and rail funding:

  • $10.7 billion for public transit, including $2 billion for new construction.
  • $2.5 billion for high-speed rail, well above the administration’s $1 billion request. This number will complement the $8 billion in high-speed rail dollars that are part of Obama’s stimulus and hints that Congress will likely have an on-going role in funding rail.
  • $1.6 billion for Amtrak, above the administration’s request.
  • Highways are still the big winner, with $41.8 billion in funding.

Also included $600 million in merit-based transportation grants modeled after the TIGER. Putting more money into competitive grants decided at the federal, and not the state, level is good news for urban areas. These grants can be spent on bike lanes and transit as well as roads based simply on which projects are the best.

In other federal news, the Obama administration is pursuing a staggering $50 billion in new TIGER money for a forthcoming jobs bill, and it would be good move if Congress honors this request instead of choosing to appropriate this transportation spending to the states after the unfortunate experience for transit with the stimulus. A large pile of money could allow for some interesting outcomes. With just $30 million in grant money, for example, Sound Transit could complete the South 200th street light rail station years ahead of schedule.

One thing the transportation appropriations bill didn’t include and isn’t on the immediate horizon: A national infrastructure bank that the Obama administration has requested. This bank would be able to give low-interest loans to municipalities looking to build infrastructure projects without resorting to often costlier privately-held bonds. The proposal is a good one, but may need to be defined outside of the appropriations process and within a new transportation authorization bill that may be authored next year.

36 Replies to “Federal Transportation Bill Moves Forward”

    1. You can check the Status of the Highway Trust Fund at the Federal Highway Administration website. The Highway fund got $30 billion from the federal fuel tax (gasoline and diesel). Another $7 billion was transferred from general funds. Effective April 1, 1983, a Mass Transit Account was created to receive a portion of the motor fuel taxes and receives about 2.86 cents per gallon of gas. That amounted to 4.8 billion in fuel tax money going to mass transit. Another billion was transfered from the Highway Fund to the Mass Transit account. So yes, the highway fund is subsidized by general funds but mass transit receives an amount close to that subside. And of course bus transit benefits from roads and is exempt from the federal fuel tax.

  1. Continued support for Highways is a going to continue for some time. For most of the nation there is simply no alternative.

    However the increased spending on Amtrak, HSR, and Public Transit will help move us to the point where we can slow the spending on Highways.

    1. Not to mention that our existing highways aren’t in that great of condition either. I think the amount spent is appropriate for highway maintenance (and should be spent for maintenance) rather than expansion.

  2. Sweet and this also makes it more likely that North Link will be sped up to 2018. I hope the City goes after some of this money too for streetcar construction.

  3. Well I am against this. Local projects should be funded locally. We should stop taking money from the other 49 states to fund our projects. Nor should money be taken from Washington to fund local projects in the other 49. Howabout the Federal Goverment gives back what it took from each state and let the states decide how to spend it. Seems fair to me. everyone gets what the contributed back. No more one state puts in less and gets more.

    1. The Interstate highway system isn’t a local project. Freight from the Port of Seattle travels to markets in the east across I-90. Not much of that market is in Montana and Montana needs money from the more populous states to maintain “their” portion of the network. Why shouldn’t money from Massachusetts, Illinois and Washington go toward that? For other projects think of it as a loan. Atlanta got money to build their light rail system. Now, many years latter we’re getting money to do the same. Besides, just because a project is being built in one state doesn’t mean there isn’t significant money going to other states in the form of engineering contracts, equipment purchases, banking, etc.

      1. I’ll give you the Interstate and the Port. They are part of the Interstate and International commerce clause of the Constitution. As for you arguments using Montana as an example it smacks of elitism. Oh, those small states are so poor and stupid that they cannot fund there own project. We must violate the 10th Amendment to help these poor people. Hogwash. If the project in Montana, or any other state, are that important then they will find a way to fund them. Finially with the Atlanta example, it was wrong for the federal Goverment to give them money for it. it is also wronf for us to get it. Two wrongs do not make a right. A child’s saying yes, but still right.

      2. Montana is neither small (3rd largest state?) or poor (higher home ownership rate than Washington according to 2000 Census data). Yet they benefit relatively little from the volume of goods traversing their state. If the “United” States was a bunch of individual fiefdoms then they would set up tolls at the boarder and charge traffic crossing “their” turf. It’s just a matter of fairness and economic efficiency that the populous states fund a much greater portion of the highway system that the less populated states which have the majority of the miles that it covers. Yeah, it may have been “wrong” for Atlanta to have gotten funding in the first place but repaying a debt is not a wrong, it’s a right. The argument for federally funding mega projects is that without a “central bank” none of it would be possible. It’s sort of like an old fashion barn raising. I help you now, you help me later. For sure the system is abused but fixing it is different than abandoning it.

      3. those small states are so poor and stupid that they cannot fund there own project.

        FWIW, “poor” and “stupid” don’t necessarily go hand in hand, though I recognize that in some political philosophies they do. In reality, poverty (or relative poverty) and intelligence/motivation/potential are less linked by poor character and/or ability than resources at hand.

        So personally, I have no problem with a state like New York partially funding infrastructure in Alabama for example.

        “One nation, indivisible”, remember?

    2. Why is the state such a holy unit of analysis? State boundaries are mostly arbitrary and people’s transportation patterns have very little to do with state lines. If we need anything it’s regional planning, and I’m all for local/regional funding and planning schemes, but as long as the feds are the ones with the money, it’s fair game to pursue that money. It allows Washington to compete for larger shares based on the merit of each project it submits for review. Pitting the 1 against the 49 seems unnecessarily combative and isolationist.

  4. Its UnConstitutional. That means it does not need to be fixed. It needs to be eliminated.

    1. What is unconstitutional? If there is a legally binding reason that funds were misappropriated then shouldn’t they be repaid? You can’t go back and ask for the money back, that’s blood from a turnip. In principle, yes the federal redistribution of wealth has some flaws (boy is that putting it mildly) but you have to play by the “rules” while you work toward changing those rules that are unfair. An example is disaster aid. For sure the federal government (i.e. all 50 states) should step in and provide “insurance” when we have a natural disaster like Katrina or Mount St. Helens. An improvement would be a state insurance fund financed based on your disaster risk.

    2. It seems like if it were unconstitutional then some states would already be getting their money back, but maybe I’m missing something.

  5. Matt, you seem to blaming the wrong person. If anyone is stealing it is the Federal Government, not Washington State. Earmarks regardless of the destination of the funds is not stealing. To quote Ron Paul:

    “Earmarks is the responsibility of the Congress. We should earmark even more. We should earmark every penny. So, that’s the principle that we have to follow and the — and the responsibility of the Congress. The whole idea that you vote against an earmark, you don’t save a penny. That just goes to the administration and they get to allocate the funds.”

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,508604,00.html

    If you want to reduce the size of the Federal Government, rejecting money won’t change anything at all, except reduce the money your district receives. To actually change anything you have to work for more fundamental changes. Rejecting Federal Funds in the mean time is cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    As for stealing from the other states… LOL Take a look at where Washington State is in the rankings:

    http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/show/266.html

  6. First Bernie, the 10th Amendment says if the Constitution is silent about something that it is for the States and the people to work it out. These earmarks clearly violate this. Second it is not the job of ANY goverment to redistribute wealth. I am not wealthy, far from it. But what someone else earns I feel they should keep. I have no claim to it. Yes everyone has to pay taxes. They are needed for revnue. That should be the only purpose of taxation. Third, I believe that diaster relief should be mostly done through private charities. The National Guard should be used at first, of corse. Americans have proven that they give and help in times of trouble. That is not to say that Goverment does not have a roll. Just a secondary one in the long term.

    Now Anc, If I find something wrong I oppose it. Even if I will benefit. If someone takes one hundred dollars from me without giving me a choice it is wrong. It would also be wrong if I saw Bill Gates drop two hundred dollars with no one else seeing it except me. If I takeit and keep it It is still wrong. yes, Bill Gates probially woyld not even bend down to pick up $200. That is not the point. I would still be stealing. If the goverment took money in the past to fund things is should not have it does not mean it is right for to take the money the same way later. Wrong is wrong. Spend money collected by the federal goverment on only what the Constitution mandates.

    One last thing Anc, I am not a big fan of Ron Paul. We agree an many things. However, we disagree on to many other things to call me a supporter. I used to like him but found that we cannot come together on to many issues(mostly foreign policy). If am more of a Mark Levine guy when it comes to politics and goverment. Liberty vs. tyranny was one of the best political books I’ve read.

    1. I can think of governments that have redistributed wealth. Sounds like a sweet deal. I’ll still be there to shake your hand when they are passing out the land. When we all live together.

      1. I don’t have an xbox 360. I do not have any game councils. O.K. I have a Ms. Pac-Man plug and play thats it.

    2. Matt, you seem to be operating under the mistaken impression that this actually took money away to give to Washington State. As I tried to point out, this money has already been taken, turning it down won’t mean that it gets returned to the tax payer but instead is simply given to other states. So your protest would be purely symbolic and accomplish absolutely nothing.

      Also you seemed to have missed my point that Washington State is net contributer not a leacher. So basically this is just Washington State getting some of it’s money back.

  7. There’s nothing worse than someone who thinks they are a constitutional scholar lecturing others about the constitution. It takes years of serious, devoted scholarship to know the document – not just googling it for a few hours.

    Part of the reason this nation has been the great success and economic/military powerhouse is because we have been UNITED, and WORKED TOGETHER. If these simple-minded concepts about the nature of our government take hold, we can kiss any kind of national unity or quality life goodbye. Just look at the Balkans.

    1. And if you look at Europe, they are actually joining together. Most of the small countries couldn’t survive without joining the EU or having close ties to it. Iceland is the latest to get the joining fever, after trashing their economy. When poorer countries are let in, the EU spends mega-euros on building their infrastructure up to modern standards.

  8. I agree that, in concept, many of the transportation issues should be left to the states. But, since states are required to balance their budgets, and cannot create money out of thin air like the Feds (at the expense of currency devaluation of course), I don’t mind having issues I care about passionately funded by the Feds. Better than having transportation, which constitutes some incredible small fraction of the Fed budget, left by the wayside. If we are going down a path of dollar devaluation, I say better to get something more tangible from it (e.g infrastructure) than just lining the pockets of execs in banking, medical insurance and defense contractors.

  9. Mathew, I’m not going to attempt to account for special earmarks and specific project details, I’m going to just argue generalities…

    The FEDERAL government has a reasonable interest in ensuring that a comprehensive network of roads and rails exist across the entire country, built to roughly an equivalent level of quality and standards. This is because we acknowledge that economic goods travel from region to region, that citizens wish to get from place to place. We can also look from a purely federal standpoint an the need to move troops and military equipment around as well as provide access to federal services such as the post office.

    It’s not a question of whether STATES are “poor” or “uneducated.” States like Montana or Wyoming with small populations are not equipped to provide the level of funding to match the construction and maintenance of the network that crowded places like California or Massachusetts can afford.

    I see nothing wrong with that, in general; but feel free to complain about stupid projects and special earmarking…

  10. The guy is a contitutionalist. A libertarian. You can’t change his mind any more than you can change the mind of a democrat or republican.

    Some people think taxes should be spread out, going to rural areas that don’t have the base to otherwise pay. Some people think taxes should stay where they came from. Some think taxes shouln’t exist at all.

    I will say this though: You really think disaster relief should be left in the hands of private charities?

    1. Not true. Lower case libertarian is a political philosophy while upper case Libertarian is political party.

      And there are as many shades of libertarianism as there are ‘liberalism’ or ‘conservatism.’

      1. Well, I admit that I am a Republican. I am also a member of the Club for growth. I am an attender of Tea Parties. I consider myself to be an Original Intent Constitutionlist. Meaning that the Constitution needs to be followed as it was written. Using the words as defined when the Constitution was written. I believe that the only way that the Constitution can leagally change is throught the amendment process. I do not believe in “modern day” interpertations. One reason is that I fear that those in power will say that we can control what churches say by using a modern day reading of the 1st Amendment. I also believe wrong is wrong. I believe that there are few shades of gray. Yes, I am an absolutist. That issomething that is not popular in the Seattle area. I have to be true to what I am. Just like everone else here needs to be true towhat they believe. I also know that probially 99% of people who blog here disagree with me. But, what fun is it to only hear what you agree with. At least I’ve got people talking.

      2. Are you really an Original Intent Constitutionalist, Mathew, or only when it’s convenient?

        So, you think only rich, white male landowners should be allowed to vote, then?

        You’d support government funding for Jewish & Muslim institutions along with Christian institutions?

        You’d support stripping away corporate “personhood”?

        Since major religious institutions in this country (see Episcopalianss, UCC Church, Reform Judaism, and others) support not only LGBT people, but same-sex marriage, you’re fine with the federal government recognizing marriages solemnized by those faiths?

        8-)

      3. My beliefes could summed up as “follow the Constitution as intended or amended.” There are things in the constitution that needed to be changed. They were changed through the amendment process. So that takes care of the three-fifths rule and only white rich land owners only getting the vote.

        I am against goverment funding any religious institute. Not for the reasons you think. This, like gay marriage, will lead to goverment take over of religion. I am against goverment recoginizing marriage. Marriage is a religious institute. As far as I am consern if it not religious it is not marriage.

  11. So this is a federal transportation grant, designed to improve the transit infrastructure throughout the country. Washington state is part of the country, so there’s nothing wrong with it taking its share. You can argue that the whole concept of a federal transportation grant is illegitimate, but given that it exists, there’s no reason for Washington to not claim its share and allow it all to go to other states.

    One can even claim that Washington deserves a larger than average share because we’ve proven we can put it to good use. Washington has steadily improved its non-automobile infrastructure over the past two decades, partly with its own investments. Most other states have not done as much.

    One issue might be whether Cantwell is bypassing the decision process to favor Washington, as opposed to letting all states come equally to the grant board. I don’t know the details of this situation enough to know whether this is the case.

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