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.