» Conference Committee finds middle ground between House and Senate versions of the resolution, maintains steady funding for transit.
Once President Obama push to include $8 billion for high-speed rail development in the stimulus bill this spring, the race was on to convince Congress to make the mode an annual recipient of transportation funds. The release last night of the Conference Committee’s consolidated appropriations bill, which will be voted on in the next few days by both chambers, suggests inroads in that campaign. Yet believers in the power of high-speed rail to transform communities and reshape movement between cities will be disappointed by the bill’s inclusion of only $2.5 billion for fiscal year 2010.
Writing separate appropriations bills for the Department of Transportation during the summer, the House and Senate proposed very different sums for high-speed rail construction: $4 billion for the former and $1 billion for the latter, conforming to Mr. Obama’s proposed allocation earlier this year. Progressives immediately latched on to the House’s version, arguing that the momentum for fast train development in the U.S. required a huge investment as soon as possible. The total of $12 billion the DOT could then use to fund new rail infrastructure projects would go further towards meeting the up to $57 billion worth of projects states claim they could build over the next few years. $10.5 billion will do less.
If this news is a let-down, it still is $2.4 billion more than has ever been obligated to fast train development in a congressional appropriations bill. It allows the DOT to fully fund very promising projects from Florida and California and still have billions left for other states with less intensive rail programs. It also implies that Congress will continue to fund high-speed rail at these levels, at least over the next few years.
Meanwhile, it remains possible that the Congress will add billions more for high-speed rail in second jobs stimulus focusing on infrastructure, likely to pass over the next few months.
Apart from high-speed rail, the bill will fund the FTA at $10.73 billion, up $602 million from last year; $2 billion will be reserved for New Starts capital projects, the largest sum ever. In addition, it includes $150 million for WMATA, which runs Washington’s neglected Metro system. Amtrak gets $1.6 billion, $82 million above the agency’s request. There will also be $600 million included for discretionary grants for projects that the Secretary of Transportation considers particularly useful.
Highways, maintaining their huge funding advantage, will get $41.8 billion this year.