Senate Appropriations Committee Issues Report on DOT, HUD, Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2018 (Part 4 of 8)
Targeted News Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 -- The Senate Appropriations Committee issued a report (S.Rpt. 115-138) on legislation (S. 1655) making appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018. The report was advanced by Sen. Susan M. Collins, R-Maine, on July 27.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] was established as a separate organizational entity in the Department of Transportation in March of 1970 to administer motor vehicle and highway safety programs. It was the successor agency to the National Highway Safety Bureau, which was housed in the Federal Highway Administration. NHTSA is responsible for motor vehicle safety, highway safety behavioral programs, motor vehicle information, and automobile fuel economy programs.
NHTSA's mission is to reduce deaths, injuries, and economic losses resulting from motor vehicle crashes. To accomplish these goals, NHTSA establishes and enforces safety performance standards for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment, investigates safety defects in motor vehicles, and conducts research on driver behavior and traffic safety. NHTSA provides grants and technical assistance to State and local governments to enable them to con- duct effective local highway safety programs. Together with State and local partners, NHTSA works to reduce the threat of drunk, impaired, and distracted driving, and to promote policies and de- vices with demonstrated safety benefits including helmets, child safety seats, airbags, and graduated license. NHTSA establishes and ensures compliance with fuel economy standards, investigates odometer fraud, establishes and enforces vehicle anti-theft regulations, and provides consumer information on a variety of motor vehicle safety topics.
The Committee recommends $908,629,000, including both budget authority and limitations on the obligation of contract authority. This funding is $9,490,000 more than the President's request and $2,718,000 less than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The following table summarizes Committee recommendations:
These programs support traffic safety programs and related research, demonstrations, technical assistance, and national leadership for highway safety programs conducted by State and local governments, the private sector, universities, research units, and various safety associations and organizations. These highway safety programs emphasize alcohol and drug countermeasures, vehicle occupant protection, traffic law enforcement, emergency medical and trauma care systems, traffic records and licensing, State and community traffic safety evaluations, protection of motorcycle riders, pedestrian and bicyclist safety, pupil transportation, distracted driving prevention, young and older driver safety, and improved accident investigation procedures.
OPERATIONS AND RESEARCH
The Committee provides $311,000,000 for Operations and Research, which is $9,490,000 more than the President's budget request and $14,975,000 less than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Of the total amount recommended for Operations and Research, $162,000,000 is derived from the general fund and $149,000,000 is derived from the Highway Trust Fund. For vehicle safety research, the Committee recommendation includes $22,520,000 for rulemakings, $21,042,000 for enforcement, and $40,253,000 for research and analysis. For highway safety research and development, the Committee recommendation includes $55,035,000 for highway safety programs, and $39,941,000 for the National Center for Statistics and Analysis. The recommendation includes no additional FTE above those provided in previous fiscal years, but directs the Secretary to lift any hiring freeze that prevents the agency from reaching FTE levels appropriated by Congress. The Committee reminds the agency that staffing levels are determined by the Congress, not OMB.
Autonomous Vehicles.--The Committee recommendation includes $10,100,000 for vehicle electronics and emerging technologies to support the development of autonomous vehicles and automated technologies. These technologies may prevent 94 percent of the roadway fatalities that are caused by human error while improving mobility options for rural America. The Committee remains concerned with cybersecurity in autonomous vehicles and urges the Department to continue to address this risk in the next update of the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy.
The Committee is also concerned that low-level automated vehicles could lead to complacent and unresponsive drivers. The Committee encourages NHTSA to include guidance on driver education and advance driver notification specifications for low-level automated vehicles in the next update of the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy.
The Committee is also concerned about the impact of advanced driver automation systems on driver cognition, specifically driver fatigue and situational awareness. The Committee directs NHTSA to work collaboratively with industry and academia to conduct research on the relationship between driver automation technologies and cognitive response. Since several automation systems with near-term deployment opportunity involve commercial vehicles, the Committee recommends this research initially focus on the trucking industry and include real-world simulation on closed test tracks where possible.
The Committee is also concerned about the impacts of highly automated vehicles on the economy and labor market for professional drivers. GAO has initiated a study on the labor displacement impact, but while that study is being conducted, coordination between DOT and the Department of Labor could help adjust Federal labor programs and proactively ease transitions for displaced workers. The Committee directs DOT to coordinate with relevant Federal agencies and keep the Committee informed on such coordination.
Plastics and Polymer Composite Materials.--The Committee recognizes the importance that plastics and polymer-based composite materials play in reducing vehicle weight. They provide vehicle manufacturers with innovative tools to reduce fuel consumption and, by association, vehicle emissions. As manufacturers plan for future fleets, composite materials offer benefits for meeting new targets established under NHTSA's vehicle fuel efficiency rules. At the same time, the Committee recognizes that composite manufacturing is a new and growing industry, providing highly skilled jobs in the automotive industry. The Committee directs NHTSA to use funding provided for the Fuel Economy program to accelerate the advancement of plastic and polymer composites, including testing and evaluation techniques, while validating the safety performance of polymer-based composites in structural applications for the automotive industry. This research will help facilitate a foundation of cooperation between DOT, the Department of Energy, and industry stakeholders for the development of safety-centered approaches for future light-weight automotive design.
Impaired Driving.--The Committee remains concerned about the increasing rates of impaired driving, particularly in States that adopt measures to decriminalize marijuana. The use of marijuana before or while driving is a critical public safety issue and the Committee directed NHTSA in Senate Report 114-253 to conduct a study of marijuana-impaired driving. The Committee recognizes the importance of impaired driving countermeasures at the community level in protecting public safety, and encourages NHTSA to expand its efforts with law enforcement to increase awareness and use of Drug Recognition Expert [DRE] and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement [ARIDE] training, particularly in States that have adopted recreational or medicinal marijuana laws. In order to further efforts to provide law enforcement with advanced training and skills to detect impaired driving, the Committee directs NHTSA to encourage and work with States to use impaired driving countermeasures grants and funds transferred to section 402 grants through the transfer authority in 23 U.S.C. 405(a)(8) for DRE and ARIDE training.
The Committee further directs the Department to conduct a national survey, in partnership with one or more qualified universities, to examine and understand the behavioral factors that influence a driver's willingness to drive while impaired. The survey shall be based on a standard definition of traffic safety culture that can be operationalized to predict the intention to drive impaired. Analyses guided by this model would inform local and regional safety programs to achieve a sustainable reduction in impaired driving, and will support our Nation's goal to achieve zero traffic fatalities.
Tire Efficiency.--The FAST Act includes three tire-related provisions under section 24331, the "Tire Efficiency, Safety, and Registration Act of 2015'' or the "TESR Act''. The provisions will contribute significantly to consumer safety, vehicle fuel economy and the competitiveness of the U.S. tire manufacturing industry and deserve the Department's timely attention and resources. The Committee encourages the Secretary to implement these regulations promptly and directs the Department to submit a report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 60 days after enactment of this act on the Department's schedule and plan for promulgating these regulations. Further, the Committee urges DOT to move forward with promulgating its pending updates to passenger Tire Pressure Monitoring System [TPMS] standards as required by section 24115 of the FAST Act. The risk of unintentional reset or recalibration in some models of TPMS is a concern and DOT should not delay in taking action on this issue.
Drunk Driving Prevention.--NHTSA has partnered with leading automobile manufacturers in the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety on an ambitious research program to develop in- vehicle technology to prevent alcohol-impaired driving that is publicly acceptable, unobtrusive for drivers below the legal limit of .08 BAC, reliable, and relatively inexpensive. The FAST Act provides $21,248,000 between fiscal year 2017 and 2020 for in-vehicle alcohol detection device research. The Committee continues to strongly support this promising research partnership, which has the potential to prevent thousands of drunk-driving deaths annually. The Committee recommendation includes $5,312,000 for continuation of this research in fiscal year 2018.
Drunk Driving Fatalities.--The Committee is concerned about increasing rates of impaired driving and the increase in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities on our highways. Crashes on U.S. roadways claimed 35,092 lives in 2015, an increase of 2,348 fatalities (7.2%) over 2014. Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities increased by 3.2 percent, from 9,943 in 2014 to 10,265 in 2015. Drunk Driving fatalities account for approximately one-third of all the deaths on our nation's highways. While drunk driving fatalities on our roadways have decreased by 51 percent since 1982, unfortunately the downward trend line for drunk driving fatalities changed course in 2015 and has reportedly continued that deadly upward trend in 2016. The Committee encourages NHTSA to review its efforts and initiatives in this arena and to work with the Committee and interested stakeholders to reverse the growing incidence of drunk driving and the increase in alcohol-related fatalities on our highways.
Child Hyperthermia Prevention.--The Committee continues to recognize the severe child safety crisis involving children left alone in motor vehicles who succumb to hyperthermia, and has favorably cited the awareness programs conducted by NHTSA. In the 19 years since records have been maintained, more than 700 children, mostly 3 years old or younger, have died in this tragic way. While progress was seen in 2014 and 2015, there were 39 deaths in 2016, and several children have already died early in 2017. The Committee directs NHTSA to continue and expand its public education and outreach efforts on child hot car death prevention through a public call to action encouraging public messaging and involvement from a broad group of organizations, government agencies, medical professionals and others who regularly interact with parents and the public. The campaign should focus on parents and caregivers who transport children, and also to encourage bystanders to take action when they see children alone in cars. The Committee urges the campaign commence earlier in the year compared to prior campaigns. In addition to public awareness, the Committee urges NHTSA to continue to pursue technological solutions that can serve as a reminder to parents to remove children from the rear seat prior to leaving their vehicle in coordination with industry. The Committee is aware that NHTSA published a study of unattended child reminder warning technology in July 2015. Because of ongoing technological advances, the Committee directs NHTSA to update the study in coordination with industry regarding currently available and future technology that can serve as a reminder to parents to remove children from the rear seat prior to leaving their vehicle. To prevent fatalities, education and technology work hand in hand to develop multiple barriers of prevention.
The most recent surface transportation authorization, the FAST Act, reauthorizes the section 402 State and community formula grants, the high visibility enforcement grants, and the consolidated National Priority Safety Program which consists of occupant protection grants, State traffic safety information grants, impaired driving countermeasures grants, distracted driving grants, motorcycle safety grants, State graduated driver license grants, and nonmotorized safety grants.
The Committee recommends a limitation on obligations and authority to liquidate an equal amount of contract authorization of $597,629,000 for the highway traffic safety grant programs funded under this heading. The recommended limitation is equal to the budget estimate and $12,257,000 above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
The Committee continues to recommend prohibiting the use of section 402 funds for construction, rehabilitation or remodeling costs, or for office furnishings and fixtures for State, local, or private buildings or structures.
The authorized funding for administrative expenses and for each grant program is as follows:
Section 140 makes available $130,000 of obligation authority for section 402 of title 23 U.S.C. to pay for travel and expenses for State management reviews and highway safety staff core competency development training.
Section 141 exempts obligation authority, made available in previous public laws, from limitations on obligations for the current year.
Federal Railroad Administration
The Federal Railroad Administration [FRA] became an operating Administration within the Department of Transportation on April 1, 1967. It incorporated the Bureau of Railroad Safety from the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Office of High Speed Ground Transportation from the Department of Commerce, and the Alaska Railroad from the Department of the Interior. FRA is responsible for planning, developing, and administering programs to achieve safe operating and mechanical practices in the railroad industry. Grants to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation [Amtrak] and other financial assistance programs to rehabilitate and improve the railroad industry's physical infrastructure are also ad- ministered by the Federal Railroad Administration.
The Safety and Operations account provides support for FRA rail safety activities and all other administrative and operating activities related to staff and programs.
The Committee recognizes the importance of taking a holistic approach to improving railroad safety and supports a comprehensive strategy of data-driven regulatory and inspection efforts, proactive approaches to identify and mitigate risks, and strategic capital investments in order to improve safety.
The Committee recommends $210,000,000 for Safety and Operations for fiscal year 2018, which is $11,000,000 more than the budget request and $8,298,000 less than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The bill specifies that $15,900,000 shall remain available until expended to cover the cost of the Automated Track Inspection Program, the Railroad Safety Information System, research and development activities, and contract support. The Committee recommendation includes 2 FTE and $283,000 for salaries and benefits for the Office of Governmental Affairs and includes no additional FTE above those provided in previous fiscal years for all other offices. The Committee is concerned about the needless delays in hiring staff, particularly inspectors, up to the levels provided by the Committee, and reminds the agency that staffing levels are determined by Congress, not OMB.
Positive Train Control.--The Committee is encouraged by the efforts of commuter railroads to develop and implement positive train control [PTC] and encourages the Department to make certification a priority and to provide the necessary technical assistance to commuter railroads as they move toward full implementation. The Committee remains concerned that implementation of PTC may be slowed or impaired by conflicting government requirements at the Federal, State, and local levels with regards to permits and historical and environmental preservation requirements. In order to implement PTC in as timely a manner as possible to meet the deadline for implementation on December 31, 2018, the Committee encourages the Secretary to exercise discretion and provide flexibility to recipients in administering grants authorized by section 3028 of the FAST Act. Specifically, the Committee encourages the Secretary to allow recipients to use grant funds for non- construction purposes, such as the installation of on-board locomotive apparatuses, back office server technology, and other core functionalities of PTC. The Department may provide this flexibility to grant recipients, to the extent allowed by current law, even if construction-related PTC work is delayed due to permitting requirements, uncompleted National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] clearances, or uncompleted historic preservation clearances. Additionally, grant recipients should not be disqualified from receiving grant funds for any pre-award expenditures as the timing of grant awards is frequently incompatible with project schedules necessary to meet mandated completion milestones.
Bench Test Equipment.--The Committee recognizes the crucial role test equipment plays in rail safety and encourages FRA to adopt standardized Bench Test Equipment [BTE] to replace numerous legacy and aging test and diagnostic equipment. Standardization on proven performance verification methods could provide increased safety for the traveling public, shorter schedules for new technology deployments, such as PTC or communications-based train control, reduce down time related to faulty systems, and reduce or eliminate serious accidents. Therefore, the Committee encourages DOT to work with the private sector to perform an extended business case analysis supporting standardized performance verification and diagnostics for safety critical electronics systems. The study should involve DOT and local transit authorities implementing an interoperable open architecture BTE. Similar efforts have proven successful in reducing overall cost while increasing safety when sponsored by the FAA and the Department of Defense.
The Railroad Research and Development program provides science and technology support for FRA's rail safety rulemaking and enforcement efforts. It also supports technological advances in conventional and high-speed railroads, as well as evaluations of the role of railroads in the Nation's transportation system.
The Committee recommends an appropriation of $40,100,000 for railroad Research and Development, which is $1,000,000 more than the budget request and equal to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
Short Line Safety Institute.--Short Line railroads operate approximately 50,000 miles of track, which is one-third of the national railroad network. They are an important feeder system for the larger Class I railroads, helping connect local communities to the national railroad network. There are 550 short line railroads operating in the United States, 73 of which currently handle some volume of energy products. The safety management system of short lines is extremely varied. Many small railroads with limited personnel and limited financial capital need additional resources to conduct hazardous materials safety training and other operational safety assessments. The Committee supports FRA's efforts, in partnership with short line and regional railroads, to continue to build a stronger, more sustainable safety culture in this segment of the rail industry. To date, several Class III railroads, including those that transport crude oil, have received safety culture assessments in order to improve railroad safety culture. The Committee's recommendation includes $2,000,000 to fund the Short Line Safety Institute and its mission, including continued efforts to improve the safe transportation of crude oil, other hazardous materials, freight, and passenger rail.
Tank Car Research.--The Committee's recommendation includes $2,000,000 to conduct tank car research activities related to the safe transportation of energy products in partnership with other Federal agencies.
RAILROAD REHABILITATION AND IMPROVEMENT FINANCING PROGRAM
The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing [RRIF] program was established by Public Law 109-178 to provide direct loans and loan guarantees to State and local governments, Government-sponsored entities, and railroads. Credit assistance under the program may be used for rehabilitating or developing rail equipment and facilities.
The Committee recommendation removes the restriction on using Federal funds to pay for the credit risk premium for RRIF loans and directs the Secretary to identify potential sources of Federal funding for the CRP to potential applicants. The Committee directs FRA to continue to provide a summary of loan activity for the preceding fiscal years in its fiscal year 2019 budget justification. At a minimum, FRA should detail the number of loans pending and issued, and the processing time for these loans.
Credit Risk Premium.--The original authorization of the RRIF program required the Department to return the credit risk premium [CRP], and interest accrued thereon, to borrowers once the corresponding loan was repaid and all obligations attached to a cohort of loans have been satisfied. Returning the CRP could allow borrowers to reinvest their own funds for critical improvements to railroad infrastructure across the Nation. To date, DOT has not returned any CRP to borrowers that have repaid their loans because the Department has not clarified its definition of cohorts. The Committee directs the Secretary to define cohorts on a fiscal year basis, consistent with virtually every loan or loan guarantee program in the Federal government. The Committee further directs the Secretary to define each cohort as the RRIF loans provided for that fiscal year, creating individual fiscal year cohorts for each fiscal year in which a loan was provided from the date of enactment of Public Law 105-178 to the date of enactment of Public Law 114- 94. The Committee also directs the Secretary not to treat the repayment of a loan after the date of enactment of Public Law 114-94 as precluding, limiting, or negatively affecting the satisfaction of the obligation of its cohort for a fiscal year prior to Public Law 114-94. The Committee directs the Secretary to repay the CRP to applicants in a timely manner, if applicable, or to provide a written explanation within 90 days of enactment of this act to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations explaining why the CRP for loans that have been repaid should not be returned to the borrower.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL INFRASTRUCTURE AND SAFETY IMPROVEMENTS GRANTS
The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements [CRISI] Grants provide support for projects authorized in section 11301 of Public Law 114-94.
The Committee recommends $92,547,000 for the CRISI Grants, which is $67,547,000 more than the budget request and $24,547,000 more than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The funding is eligible for activities authorized under 49 U.S.C. 24407, of which at least 25 percent shall be available for projects in rural areas. Of the total amount provided, $35,547,000 shall be for eligible projects under 49 U.S.C. 24407(c)(2) that contribute to the initiation or restoration of intercity passenger rail service.
FEDERAL-STATE PARTNERSHIP FOR STATE OF GOOD REPAIR GRANTS
The Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grant program provides support for capital projects that reduce the state of good repair backlog with respect to qualified railroad assets.
The Committee recommends $26,000,000 for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grants, which is $55,000 more than the budget request and $1,000,000 more than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The Committee is aware of the growing backlog of state of good repair and improvement needs on many of the country's important passenger routes. The Committee notes that regardless of the title of this program, eligible projects under 49 U.S.C. 24911 include capital projects to replace existing assets with assets that increase capacity or provide a higher level of service, as well as capital projects to ensure that service can be maintained while existing assets are brought to a state of good repair. Therefore, certain projects may be eligible for funding provided for this program as well as funding provided under the Capital Investment Grant program as authorized under 49 U.S.C. 5309.
The Restoration and Enhancement Grant program provides support for operating assistance and capital investments to initiate, restore, or enhance intercity passenger rail service.
The Committee recommends $5,000,000 for Restoration and Enhancement Grants, which is $5,000,000 more than the budget request and equal to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The Committee expects non-Federal stakeholders to make financial or in-kind contributions to projects receiving awards under this program.
THE NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION [AMTRAK]
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) operates intercity passenger rail services in 46 States and the District of Columbia, in addition to serving as a contractor in various capacities for several commuter rail agencies. Congress created Amtrak in the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-518) in response to private carriers' inability to profitably operate intercity passenger rail service. Thereafter, Amtrak assumed the common carrier obligations of the private railroads in exchange for the right to priority access to their tracks for incremental cost.
The Committee recommends a total appropriation of $1,600,000,000 for Amtrak, which is $840,000,000 more than the budget request and $105,000,000 more than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The Committee directs FRA to make a timely disbursement of funds in accordance with the FAST Act to maximize the Corporation's ability to efficiently manage its cash flow. Each year, Amtrak is responsible for significant one-time cash overflows at the beginning of the calendar year. In order to help facilitate these payments, the Committee encourages the FRA to release adequate funding in the first quarter of the fiscal year in order to efficiently manage Amtrak's financial obligations in a timely manner.
Budget, and Business Plan.--The Committee continues to direct Amtrak to submit a business plan in accordance with section 11203(b) of Public Law 114-94 for fiscal year 2018. The Corporation shall continue to submit a budget request for fiscal year 2019 to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations in similar format and substance to those submitted by executive agencies of the Federal Government.
FRA Grant Administration and Report Streamlining.--The Committee recognizes that Amtrak fields a myriad of grant requirements from the FRA. The Committee is supportive of robust oversight by the FRA; however, to the extent practicable, the FRA is encouraged to work with Amtrak to reduce duplication and streamline their reporting requirements.
New York Penn Station.--New York Penn Station is the busiest railroad station in the Nation, with more than 1,300 weekday train movements resulting in 650,000 passenger trips on Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road [LIRR], NJ TRANSIT [NJT], and local transit subways. Amtrak's trains comprised 20.5 percent of train movements, making it a minority user of the asset, but has contributed 70 percent of the investments made in shared- use infrastructure of Penn Station and the adjacent tunnels. Amtrak is currently implementing the New York Penn Station Infrastructural Renewal program, a series of major track and switch renewal projects aimed at strengthening and improving operations and preparedness at Penn Station. Years of state-of- good-repair work is being accelerated and compressed into a few weeks, which is expected to result in less disruptive maintenance for years to come. All users of Penn Station, including Amtrak, LIRR, and NJT, will benefit from the enhanced reliability that stems for these critical improvements. The Committee is concerned that New Jersey and New York have threatened to withhold critical safety funding for the NEC and Penn Station as a result of the necessary disruptions caused by the renewal program, which would reduce investment in Penn Station and adversely impact Amtrak, LIRR, and NJT passengers. Such action may also be in violation of the agreements between Amtrak, the commuter authorities, and the Federal mandate for users of NEC assets to fully compensate owners of such assets for their use.
Food and Beverage.--Since 2015, the Committee has required Amtrak to report on its savings initiatives, and the FAST Act formalized this planning and implementation process providing specific requirements to eliminate operating losses associated with providing food and beverage services on board Amtrak trains by 2020. The Committee urges Amtrak to continue to take actions, such as increasing cashless transactions, continuing to reduce labor costs, and expeditiously beginning the third party contracting pilot, that would allow it to produce a net loss of zero on its food and beverage services ahead of the FAST Act deadline. The Committee directs Amtrak to provide a report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations no later than 120 days after enactment of this act comparing the actual fiscal year 2017 savings with Amtrak projections.
NORTHEAST CORRIDOR GRANTS TO THE NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION
The Committee recommends $358,400,000 for Northeast Corridor Grants to Amtrak. The funding level provided includes no more than $5,000,000 for the use of the Northeast Corridor Commission established under section 24905 of title 49, United States Code.
Northeast Corridor.--The Committee commends Amtrak's commitment to making important capital improvements, particularly along the Northeast Corridor. Superstorm Sandy caused serious damage to the current Amtrak Hudson River Tunnels, necessitating their replacement in less than 20 years. Without the completion of the Northeast Corridor Gateway Project, Amtrak predicts severe service cuts for both intercity and commuter service. Accordingly, the Committee encourages Amtrak to use funding provided to continue the Northeast Corridor Gateway Project.
NATIONAL NETWORK GRANTS TO THE NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION
The Committee recommends $1,241,600,000 for National Network Grants to Amtrak. The funding level provided includes no more than $2,000,000 for use of the State-Supported Route Committee established in the FAST Act.
Gulf Coast Rail Service.--Section 11304 of the FAST Act required the Gulf Coast Working Group [GCWG], consisting of FRA, Amtrak, the Southern Rail Commission [SRC], railroad carriers, State and local governments, and others, to evaluate all options for restoring passenger rail service in the gulf coast region, select a preferred option for service, develop an inventory and cost estimate of capital projects to restore service, and identify Federal and non-Federal funding to restore service. The GCWG report, released on July 17, 2017, identified the preferred options as a daily long-distance route that extends Amtrak's existing City of New Orleans service from New Orleans, Louisiana to Orlando, Florida and a new daily State-supported route from New Orleans, Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama. The preliminary capital cost estimates for restoring service is $117,672,000, with annual operating cost estimates at $5,480,000 for the long-distance route and $4,000,000 for the State-supported route. These cost estimates are dwarfed by the $2,300,000,000 estimate previously determined by industry, which also raised concerns with on-time performance [OTP] requirements and delays at drawbridges. The Committee believes the GCWG report more accurately reflects these concerns and is a more realistic cost estimate, but directs Amtrak and DOT to continue working with the host railroad and the Coast Guard to refine cost estimates.
The GCWG report also highlights potential sources of Federal funding for restoration of Gulf Coast passenger rail service including RRIF, TIFIA, TIGER, CRISI, Restoration and Enhancement, Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects, Railway-Highway Crossings, and fiscal year 2006 Gulf Coast Funds. The Committee recommendation includes $35,547,000 in CRISI for capital projects and $5,000,000 in Restoration and Enhancement Grants for operating assistance for projects that contribute to the initiation or restoration of intercity passenger rail service. The Committee recommendation also includes a provision allowing States with appropriate agreements with Amtrak to use CMAQ funds for operating assistance. The Committee expects Amtrak, SRC, and the gulf coast region to seek funding through these programs for the preferred routes and encourages the Secretary to prioritize funding provided by this Committee for these routes. In order to expeditiously return passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast, the Committee further directs the Secretary to report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 180 days of enactment on progress made with implementing the recommendations identified in section 5 of the GCWG report. In addition, the Committee recommendation allows up to $5,000,000 of the Grant to the National Network to be available for administrative and other expenses related to cases Amtrak may bring before STB related to the restoration of passenger rail service over routes previously served by Amtrak.
Long-Distance Routes.--Long-distance routes provide much needed transportation access for 4.7 million riders in 325 communities in 40 States. Providing diversified transportation options is important to the growth of the Nation's economy, especially in rural areas where options are limited. The budget request includes a proposal to terminate all long-distance service. Rather than saving money, the proposal would actually increase costs for Amtrak in fiscal year 2018 by $423,400,000 as a result of mandatory labor payments and increased operating losses to Amtrak. There are significant shared and system related costs which would remain and need to be shifted to NEC or State-supported routes. Many State-supported routes would be unable to pay for these cost increases and could be eliminated if the budget request was enacted. The Committee is dismayed at the lack of analysis and forethought behind the budget request to eliminate long-distance routes and rejects it.
Passenger Rail in the Bakken Region.--The Committee recognizes the importance of improving the financial viability of Amtrak's Empire Builder and the growth in demand for passenger rail service in the Bakken region. The Committee directs Amtrak to continue to work with local officials, taking into account the results of the updated Amtrak Empire Builder feasibility study, to address the prospect of adding new passenger rail stops that generate revenue and reduce operating costs of the Empire Builder and other national network routes.
Section 150 limits overtime payments to employees at Amtrak to $35,000 per employee. However, Amtrak's president may waive this restriction for specific employees for safety or operational efficiency reasons. If the cap is waived, Amtrak must notify the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 30 days and specify the reason for such waiver.
Federal Transit Administration
The Federal Transit Administration [FTA] was established as a component of the Department of Transportation by Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1968, effective July 1, 1968, which transferred most of the functions and programs under the Federal Transit Act of 1964, as amended (78 Stat. 302; 49 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.), from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The missions of the FTA are: to help develop improved mass transportation systems and practices; to support the inclusion of public transportation in community and regional planning to support economic development; to provide mobility for Americans who depend on transit for transportation in both metropolitan and rural areas; to maximize the productivity and efficiency of transportation systems; and to provide assistance to State and local governments and agencies in financing such services and systems.
Under the Committee recommendations, a total program level of $12,129,428,407 is provided for FTA programs in fiscal year 2018. The recommendation is $903,565,000 more than the budget request and $285,073,636 less than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
Administrative expenses fund personnel, contract resources, in- formation technology, space management, travel, training, and other administrative expenses necessary to carry out FTA's mission to support, improve, and help ensure the safety of public transportation systems.
The Committee recommends a total of $113,165,000 from the general fund for the agency's salaries and administrative expenses. The recommended level of funding is $2,370,000 more than the budget request and equal to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
Project Management Oversight [PMO] Activities.--The Committee directs FTA to continue to submit to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations the quarterly PMO reports for each project with a full funding grant agreement.
Full Funding Grant Agreements [FFGAs].--Section 5309(k) of title 49, U.S.C. requires that FTA notify the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, as well as the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, 30 days before executing a FFGA. In its notification to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, the Committee directs FTA to submit the following information: (1) a copy of the proposed FFGA; (2) the total and annual Federal appropriations required for the project; (3) the yearly and total Federal appropriations that can be planned or anticipated for existing FFGAs for each fiscal year through 2019; (4) a detailed analysis of annual commitments for current and anticipated FFGAs against the program authorization, by individual project; (5) a financial analysis of the project's cost and sponsor's ability to finance the project, which shall be conducted by an independent examiner and which shall include an assessment of the capital cost estimate and finance plan; (6) the source and security of all public and private sector financing; (7) the project's operating plan, which enumerates the project's future revenue and ridership forecasts; and (8) a listing of all planned contingencies and possible risks associated with the project.
The Committee also directs FTA to inform the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations in writing 30 days before approving schedule, scope, or budget changes to any FFGA. Correspondence relating to all changes shall include any budget revisions or pro- gram changes that materially alter the project as originally stipulated in the FFGA, including any proposed change in rail car procurement.
The Committee directs FTA to continue to provide a monthly Capital Investment Grant program update to the House and Sen- ate Committees on Appropriations, detailing the status of each project. This update should include anticipated milestone schedules for advancing projects, especially those within 2 years of a proposed FFGA. It should also highlight and explain any potential cost and schedule changes affecting projects.
Staffing Levels.--The Committee provided funding for new safety-critical positions in fiscal year 2017 for office of Transit Safety and Oversight [TSO] in order to provide the necessary oversight of WMATA and other transit agencies. While FTA is no longer under a hiring freeze, the Committee is concerned about the needless delays in hiring critical staff, particularly in TSO, up to the levels provided by the Committee. The Committee directs FTA to hire staff based on funding levels provided by Congress rather than future budget requests, and reminds the agency that staffing levels are determined by Congress, not OMB.
Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility.--The Committee directs the Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility to submit within 180 days of enactment of this act a plan and report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations on options to eliminate duplication, provide efficient services for people in need, and increase coordination between the various Federal departments' operating programs for transportation-disadvantaged persons.
(LIQUIDATION OF CONTRACT AUTHORITY)
(LIMITATION ON OBLIGATIONS)
Communities use Formula Grants funds for bus and railcar purchases, facility repair and construction, maintenance, and where eligible, planning and operating expenses. The Formula Grants account includes funding for the following programs: transit-oriented development; planning programs; urbanized area formula grants; enhanced mobility for seniors and individuals with disabilities; a pilot program for enhanced mobility; formula grants for rural areas; public transportation innovation; technical assistance and workforce development, including a national transit institute; a bus testing facility; the national transit database; state of good repairs grants; bus and bus facilities formulas grants; and growing States and high-density States formula grants. Set-asides from formula funds are directed to a grant program for each State with rail systems not regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration to meet the requirements for a State Safety Oversight program. The account also provides funding to support passenger ferry services and public transportation on Indian reservations.
The Committee recommends limiting obligations in the transit formula and bus grants account in fiscal year 2018 to $9,733,353,407. The recommendation is equal to the budget request and $352,636 more than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The recommendation is also consistent with the currently authorized level under the FAST Act. The Committee recommends $10,300,000,000 in authority to liquidate contract authorizations. This amount is sufficient to cover outstanding obligations from this account. The following table displays the distribution of obligation limitation among the program categories of formula grants:
DISTRIBUTION OF OBLIGATION LIMITATION AMONG MAJOR CATEGORIES OF FORMULA GRANTS
Population Loss.--The Committee recognizes the financial constraints placed on local communities and transit operators who have lost their urbanized area [UZA] formula funds as a direct result of a hurricane or other major disaster. In the interest of protecting local communities and transit operators from any additional burdens in the wake of a major disaster, the Committee directs FTA to explore ways to ensure that the impact to local communities and transit operators affected by major disasters are minimalized, including potential guidance to prevent a loss of formula funds from a population drop directly related to such major disaster.
Bus and Bus Facilities Grant Program.--The Committee supports the FAST Act's inclusion of competitive grants in the buses and bus facilities grant program and encourages FTA to follow the guidance set forth in the FAST Act when developing selection criteria for the program. Consistent with section 3017 of the FAST Act, the age and condition of buses, bus fleets, related equipment, and bus-related facilities should be the primary consideration for selection criteria.
Improving Rural Transit Access.--The Committee recognizes the importance of ensuring safe, private transportation is made avail- able for seniors and people who do not drive, especially in small and rural communities where distance and low population density make traditional mass transportation difficult. The efficiencies of information management can help to provide on-demand transportation services and bring together underutilized private transportation capacity through ride share, car share, volunteer transport, and private community transport. The Committee encourages FTA to consider innovative transportation networks that leverage community volunteerism and private resources in various forms to access underutilized private transportation capacity to promote inclusive community mobility and provide transportation for seniors and disadvantaged populations in small and rural communities. Further, the Committee supports the capacity of consumers to plan their travel safely, independently, and reliably through a variety of techniques and tools.
Under the Capital Investment Grants [CIG] program, FTA provides grants to fund the building of new fixed guideway systems or extensions and improvements to existing fixed guideway systems. Eligible services include light rail, rapid rail (heavy rail), commuter rail, and bus rapid transit. The program includes funding for four categories of eligible projects authorized under 49 U.S.C. 5309, and section 3005(b) of the FAST Act: New Starts, Small Starts, Core Capacity, and Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program. New Starts are projects with a Federal share under this section of at least $100,000,000 or a total net capital cost of at least $300,000,000. By comparison, Small Starts are projects with a Federal share under this section of less than $100,000,000 and total net capital cost less than $300,000,000. Core Capacity projects are those that will expand capacity by at least 10 percent in existing fixed-guideway transit corridors that are already at or above capacity, or are expected to be at or above capacity within 5 years. The FAST Act authorizes eight projects under the Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program, consisting of New Starts, Small Starts, or Core Capacity, that require no more than a 25 percent Federal share and are supported, in part, by a public private partnership.
The Committee recommends $2,132,910,000 for capital investment grants, which is $279,721,000 less than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level, and $900,910,000 more than the request. In addition, $8,900,000 in New Starts recoveries and $5,500,000 in Bus and Bus Facilities recoveries from prior year obligations are made available, for a total spending level of $2,147,310,000. The Committee recommendation includes $1,007,910,000 to cover the cost of the 11 existing FFGAs for New Starts projects and $200,000,000 to cover the cost of the two existing FFGAs for Core Capacity projects in fiscal year 2018, which shall be distributed consistent with the proposed schedule of Federal funds for each FFGA. The Committee recommendation includes $149,900,000 to complete funding for previously funded Small Starts projects that do not have a signed agreement. The Committee's recommendations also includes for new projects that received at least a "medium'' overall rating in the fiscal year 2018 annual report: $454,000,000 for New Starts FFGAs, $145,700,000 for Core Capacity FFGAs, and $168,400,000 for Small Starts grant agreements.
Project Pipeline.--In addition to providing funding for this program for the projects described above, the Committee directs the Secretary to continue to advance eligible projects into project development and engineering in the capital investment grant evaluation, rating, and approval process pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 5309 and section 3005(b) of the FAST Act in all cases when projects meet the statutory criteria. The Committee also directs the Secretary to provide notice to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations of not less than 90 days prior to altering or rescinding any rule, circular or guidance relating to the evaluation, rating and approval process pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 5309.
Annual Report on Funding Recommendations.--The Committee directs the Secretary to submit the fiscal year 2019 annual report on funding recommendations required by 49 U.S.C. 5309(o), and directs the Secretary to maintain the Federal Government funding commitments for all existing grant agreements and identify all projects with a medium or higher rating that anticipate requesting a grant agreement in fiscal year 2019.
Increasing Costs of Transit Projects.--Not later than 9 months after the enactment of this act, the GAO shall report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations regarding the construction costs of transit capital projects in the United States in comparison to other developed G-20 nations, such as South Korea, Japan, Spain, France, Italy and Germany. The GAO shall examine potential cost drivers, including: contracting and procurement, project and station design, routing, regulatory barriers, interagency cooperation and legal systems, but not those which are required by Federal law. The report shall compare practices both between various cities in the United States, as well as practices in other nations. The report should, if appropriate, make recommendations to DOT on steps it can take within existing Federal law to address the issues identified by the reports to help bring best practices in the United States in line with international standards within the boundaries of current law. These recommendations may take the form of changes to funding guidelines or prioritization, regulatory changes, contracting practices, or intergovernmental technical assistance.