Short term extension for Transportation bill through Oct.

dollar-sign-wallpaper-7Last week the Senate passed a six year transportation bill, the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy ( DRIVE) Act, which authorizes funding for six years. The House did not take up the Senate bill before their August recess resulting in Congress passing a three month extension to MAP-21 that extends through Oct. 29, 2015.

The DRIVE Act does call for increases in public transportation funding nearly $2 billion over MAP-21 levels.  The bill also includes a 7.5 percent increase, or $162 million, in fiscal year 2016 to allow public transportation agencies with rail fixed guideway systems to continue to address their most pressing state of good repair needs.  The total program grows an additional $292 million over the remainder of the authorization period.

TIGER funding is still not a permanent part of the transportation bill under the current DRIVE Act.  TIGER has been used successfully in MO for transit including the Kansas City Streetcar project and the future Cortex MetroLink Station.  If this bill passes, lawmakers will have to fight each year to get the annual appropriations for TIGER funding.

However, for the first time the bill gives intercity rail a seat at the table.  The transportation bill has included dedicated funding for public transportation and bicycling and walking since 1982 and 1991 respectively. But intercity passenger rail has been consistently left out of the overall surface transportation legislation.  According to Transportation for America, while the rail programs would still require annual appropriations for funding, it takes an important step forward in providing Amtrak sustainable funding and helping to expand service to meet booming demand.

Funding the Highway Trust Fund will continue to top the list as discussions continue.  The Senate bill only provides funding sources for the first three years of the six year funding bill. The Senate cobbled together $46 billion in non-transportation-related funds, fees and accounting maneuvers for the first three years. There is no funding plan identified for the last three years of the bill.