Another piece of the U.S. Senate’s envisioned surface transportation package is falling into place, with the Commerce Committee’s approval of a measure that would authorize $78 billion over five years for passenger and freight rail and highway safety programs. Some of the funds would go for infrastructure.
The committee approved the legislation on June 16, by a strongly bipartisan 25-3 vote. The three “no” votes were all from Republicans: Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah) and Rick Scott (Fla.).
[View amended text of the bill here.]
Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said the bill “makes a big down payment—$78 billion—on rebuilding and revamping our nation’s critical transportation infrastructure, a key to our economic future and creating more jobs.”
The panel’s top GOP member, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, said, “This legislation stands as a major example of how bipartisanship is still alive and well in the Senate.”
Rail would receive the largest share of the bill’s funding, $36 billion. Of that sum, Amtrak would get $25 billion, for the railroad’s Northeast Corridor and other routes around the country, as well as for rail service funded jointly by Amtrak and states.
Amtrak said in a statement to ENR that it "looks forward to working with both the House and the Senate to address the issues most critical to the future of inter-city passenger rail—reliable and robust investment in the improvement of our infrastructure, fleet and stations and the expansion of the network to serve more of America with faster, better service."
Rail safety programs would receive $7.5 billion, including a new $500-million a year program to remove dangerous grade crossings
Multimodal and freight infrastructure would get $28 billion, including $7.5 billion for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s RAISE discretionary grant program. It also would authorize the popular program for the first time in its 12-year history.
Over the years, the program has been funded by annual appropriations and has drawn applications for far more funds than DOT has available. It originally was called the TIGER grant program. The Trump administration renamed it BUILD and the Biden administration has changed it to RAISE, which stands for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity.
Elsewhere in the Commerce Committee’s bill, highway safety would get a $13-billion allocation. That includes $6 billion for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, $4.6 billion for truck safety and $500 million for planning for hazardous-materials accidents and training first responders to address them.
The Commerce Committee’s action follows the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s unanimously approval on May 26 of a $312.4-billion highway and bridge measure, which would be the largest section of a surface transportation package.
[View ENR May 26 story on the highway bill here.]
Still to come are the transit section, from the Banking Committee, and most importantly, a revenue measure, which is the responsibility of the Finance Committee.
The current surface transportation statute, a one-year extension of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, is scheduled to lapse on Sept. 30.
In the House, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 10 approved a five-year $547-billion surface transportation measure, including $343 billion for highway and bridge construction and highway safety.
The House panel’s bill has $95 billion for freight and passenger rail, including $32 billion for Amtrak. That package also has $109 billion for transit, but it lacks a revenue title.
Story updated on 6/17/2021 with Amtrak statement.