Rail, marine and airport officials are pragmatically waiting for the final version of a stimulus bill. Everyone would like more stimulus project funds, but they would also like policy and programming changes.
Such changes could be reflected in attempts to reauthorize the six-year transportation trust fund and the airport improvement program later this year. At a Transportation Research Board session held earlier this month in Washington, D.C., Maryland State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen said many officials were calling the stimulus request process a “dress rehearsal” for reauthorization.
The House stimulus proposal doesn’t mention port projects specifically, but the American Association of Port Authorities officials assert that any projects improving intermodal connections to ports will be valuable. Its list of $8.2 billion in port-related, “shovel-ready” projects reflects those links. Dave Sanford, AAPA navigation policy and legislation director, says pro-port projects aren’t labeled as such but are found within other categories such as water, highways or environment.
Port officials hope a stimulus will spur construction through regulatory changes. AAPA wants a final bill to eliminate the Harbor Maintenance Tax for short sea shipping, waive ports’ cost-share on security grants and eliminate the alternative minimum tax for private activity bonds used to fund port projects.
The House stimulus version would provide $9 billion for transit and $1.1 billion for Amtrak and high-speed rail.
Airport groups also want the AMT eliminated. “There are a number of airports with problems in bonding,” says Richard Marchi, senior adviser on policy and regulatory affairs for the American Association of Airport Executives. Officials also want an increase in passenger facility charges to $7.50, more flexibility in using resulting revenue and the creation of a federal credit program for critical projects, among others.
Air and transit officials also would like to see longer-term funding beyond the 190-day “shovel-ready” requirement—and not just for hard construction. Although the House version suggests $3 billion for airports, AAAE and other groups would like $3 billion alone for equipment to upgrade the air traffic management system as well as $1 billion for ready-to-go projects.
The House version lists $3 billion for airport improvement projects and $500 million for explosives detection.
The stimulus should include money to deal with operations issues for transit agencies, such as replacing buses, American Public Transportation Association President William Millar says. As for deployment, “We’d like to see the projects be 100% federally funded and put out with simplified procedures,” he says. “I hope they would hold back some money for longer-term projects.”
Still, everyone agrees more shovel-ready funding would be nice. Gary LaGrange, director of the Port of New Orleans, has $205 million in such projects, including a $95-million wharf reconstruction. “If just one gets funded, I can celebrate,” he says.
Amtrak has a stimulus wish list of about $7.2 billion for various projects above and beyond its 2009-2011 budget. While praising the House plan to al-locate $10.1 billion for Amtrak and other transit, APTA stated, “We are hopeful that [President] Barack Obama and Congress will consider additional investment.” APTA’s member survey revealed 787 shovel-ready projects totaling $15.9 billion. Paul J. Ballard, chief executive officer of the Nashville MTA, submitted a wish list of almost $60 million. “We are excited about the opportunities for reauthorization,” he says.