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U.S. Senate passes transportation appropriations bill with robust funding for transit, rail programs

Washington, DC—Today, the United States Senate again rejected the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate or severely cut vital transportation programs that local communities rely on by adopting its FY19 Transportation Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill. In perhaps their strongest rebuke of the president’s disdain for transit, the bill language specifically requests that USDOT manage the BUILD program (formerly TIGER) as it did during the Obama administration.

“Today the United States Senate reaffirmed the importance of investing in transportation and in particular public transit. The Senate’s vote signals that funding public transit is and should remain a federal priority, despite the objections of the current administration,” said Kevin F. Thompson, director of Transportation for America. “Millions of Americans are counting on new or improved transit service to provide options for reaching jobs and opportunity, and local governments are counting on federal funds to leverage local taxpayer revenue and bring these projects to fruition.”

President Trump has twice sent recommended budgets to Capitol Hill that have eliminated most or all funding for public transit.

The Senate THUD appropriations bill funds:

  • The BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) Grants program at $1 billion. The bill language specifically directs USDOT to administer this program as it was in 2016 (under Obama’s DOT) in response to changes the agency has tried to impose which would have added greater financial and administrative burdens on local communities. The BUILD program is one of the most popular programs administered by the federal government, providing grants directly to local communities across the country for all manner of transportation systems from biking and walking infrastructure to port projects to transit systems. Communities can continue to rely on BUILD to help make upgrades to their ports (like in Mobile, Alabama) or shared-use trail systems (like in northwest Arkansas).
  • The Capital Investment Grants (CIG) Program at $2.5 billion, a $1.6 billion increase over the administration’s FY19 request but $92 million below FY18. This funding will allow projects like the Indianapolis Purple Bus Rapid transit (BRT) line, the Raleigh-Durham light rail line and the Tempe, Arizona Streetcar to move forward. Each of these communities raised tens or hundreds of millions of local dollars based on the promise of federal matching funds. The Senate, through this bill, keeps that promise.

The Senate strongly endorsed continuing Amtrak’s long-distance service, despite objections of the Trump administration, by virtually prohibiting Amtrak from reducing or eliminating rail service on the Southwest Chief line as Amtrak proposed. The Senate also adopted an amendment supported by Transportation for America that expressly prohibits the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) from changing its federal loan policy that would have raised costs for local taxpayers (see FTA’s “Dear Colleague” letter). The letter sowed confusion about FTA’s standards and we’re pleased the Senate rebuked the agency’s actions. The Senate sent a clear message that FTA should continue carrying out the CIG program as Congress intended.

We applaud the Senate for taking a firm stand in support of these programs and the communities that rely on them; we hope the U.S. House of Representatives will do the same.

On May 23, 2018, the House Appropriations Committee approved their THUD bill. Like the Senate bill, the House bill rejects the president’s proposal to eliminate or severely cut vital transportation programs that local communities rely on. We encourage Speaker Ryan to bring the bill expeditiously to the full House of Representatives for a vote.