» Funding is a huge shoot-in-the-arm for rail projects nationwide; transit funding is weak, though, and operating costs are not subsidized here
|House, Senate, and Final Versions of the Stimulus Bill|
|Program||House Bill||Senate Bill||Final Bill|
|Grants to Amtrak||$800 m||$850 m||$1.3 b
|State Rail Grants||$300 m||$250 m||0|
|High-Speed Rail||0||$2 b||$8 b|
|Total Rail||$1.1 b||$3.1 b||$9.3 b|
|Transit Formula Funds||$7.5 b||$8.4 b||$6.9 b|
|Fixed Guideway Modernization||$2 b||0||$750 m
|New Starts||$2.5 b||0||$750 m
|Discretionary Grants*||0||$5.5 b*||$1.5 b*|
|Total Transit||$12 b||$8.4 + $5.5 b*||$8.4 + $1.5 b*
* Discretionary grants would be distributed by the Secretary of the Department of Transportation to qualified “shovel-ready” transportation projects. Most of this money would probably go to highway and bridge projects, but some of the funds would likely go to transit and rail as well.
The U.S. Congress Conference Committee has agreed to the final provisions of the economic stimulus bill, which now moves back to the two chambers of Congress for final passage. The most important news is the massive amount of money proposed for high-speed rail – $8 billion – and the large increase in Amtrak funding, up to $1.3 billion from $800 and $850 million in the respective House and Senate bills. This represents the largest single expenditure on rail in United States history and promises a new day for train travel. The U.S. Department of Transportation will lead the distribution of these funds; most of the money is likely to go to existing programs such as California High-Speed Rail, Midwest High-Speed Rail, and Southeast High-Speed Rail. States will get no supplementary money for rail programs. The legislation says that some of the money can be used for standard-speed rail corridors, but that the Secretary of Transportation is to give priority “to projects that support the development of intercity high speed rail service.”
According to the AP, President Obama and Senator Reid pushed for the increase personally. This fits in directly with Mr. Obama’s statement yesterday about the benefits of high-speed rail and his repeated insistence during the campaign that he would push for better train service, especially in his native Midwest. It also may be a response to Mr. Obama’s seeming ignorance about the lack of money for infrastructure that Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) described at the beginning of the month.
Transit fared less well in the bill, though, receiving only the $8.4 billion the Senate had marked for it, as compared to the $12 billion proposed by the House. There are no specific funds for the New Start program or fixed guideway modernization. Even so, $8.4 billion addition to transit formula grants, which will go to maintenance and capital costs for existing systems, is an excellent boost for public transportation. $750 million of that amount will go to the New Start and Small Start programs, which finance major new lines, and $750 million will go to the fixed guideways program, which goes towards rehabilitating existing lines.
In addition, the House Appropriations Committee has announced that it will include $1.5 billion in the bill for competitive discretionary grants for transportation, some off which will go to transit.
Five senators (Harry Reid (D-NV), Max Baucus (D-MT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Daniel Inouye (D-HI)) and five congressmen (David Obey (D-WI), Charlie Rangel (D-NY), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Jerry Lewis (R-CA), and David Camp (R-MI)) were involved directly in the negotiations, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Arlen Specter (R-PA) also played a major role.
The bill, which is virtually assured passage, will likely be up for a vote in the House Friday and in the Senate on Monday, allowing President Obama to sign the bill that night.
Remember that, once in effect, the law will be tracked by the government for public consumption at Recovery.gov.