Senate Strips High-Speed Rail Funding

The Senate’s transportation budget proposal is still under wraps, but we’re getting some clues about what’s in it.

The president's "vision" for high-speed rail is getting cloudy. Image: ##http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/04/16/a-vision-for-high-speed-rail/##White House##

This morning, a subcommittee marked up the transportation and HUD appropriations bill, and the full committee will consider it tomorrow afternoon. Only after that will the draft bill be released.

During this morning’s subcommittee markup, though, a few senators divulged a few key points. For example, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said he was ” discouraged by the elimination of high-speed rail grants” in the budget. “It’s a casualty of the cuts mandated in the debt-limit deal,” he said.

Despite his strong push last winter for high-speed rail service that would reach 80 percent of the U.S. population in 25 years, President Obama has been willing to sacrifice high-speed rail funding in tense budget fights with Republicans. The Senate seems to be following suit.

However, funding for Amtrak is untouched in the Senate budget bill, foreshadowing a pitched battle once the Senate and House have to reconcile their two budget bills. The House made devastating cuts to Amtrak in its version.

And Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) emphasized that TIGER grants are “an important part of the transportation equation” and indicated that they were still in the bill. Through other channels, we hear that TIGER is being funded at $550 million, which is slightly higher than the $527 million allocation it has now. The House 2012 budget proposal would have eliminated the program completely.

Smart Growth America sounded the alarm yesterday that the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (a collaboration among USDOT, EPA and HUD) could be on the ropes. From what we hear, there is some money for HUD grants for livable and sustainable communities.

Amendments can be offered at tomorrow’s full committee markup, so anything can change.

Jeff Davis of Transportation Weekly reports that the Senate bill maintains current funding levels for highways and transit ($41.1 billion and $8.3 billion, respectively). It also has an extra $1.5 billion in emergency relief highway funding, which is “exempt from the $55.25 billion ceiling given to the THUD bill and subject instead to a separate annual emergency ceiling under the Budget Control Act,” the deal that ended the standoff over the debt ceiling.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Rail Promoter, Announces Retirement

|
Yesterday afternoon, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, announced that Frank Lautenberg would return as chair of the committee’s Surface Transportation, & Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, & Security Subcommittee. This afternoon at 2:00 p.m., Lautenberg issued a statement that “improving passenger and high-speed rail service in America and on the Northeast Corridor is […]

Senate Offers a More Multi-Modal 2014 Transportation Budget Than the House

|
Last week, a House panel envisioned some big cuts to next year’s transportation budget. TIGER and high-speed rail would get nothing, Amtrak would get slashed, and ixnay on all that green “livability” crap. (And that’s practically a quote.) The Senate Appropriations Committee voted this morning on the budget its own transportation subcommittee put together, and the end […]

Senate Saves a Sliver For High-Speed Rail

|
President Obama had sought $8 billion for high-speed rail in 2012. The House-passed budget had exactly zero. The Senate bill approved by the Transportation subcommittee Tuesday followed suit. But the full Appropriations Committee yesterday put $100 million back into next year’s budget for the president’s signature transportation initiative. That’s still starvation wages for the program, […]

House Appropriators Leave TIGER, HSR Out of Next Year’s Budget

|
It’s always confusing when, in the middle of endless bicameral hand-wringing about transportation spending, the House Appropriations Committee puts out a budget for transportation without much ado. That’s what they did today. The Transportation and HUD Subcommittee will vote tomorrow on its draft budget, released today, in preparation to send it to the full Appropriations Committee. The […]

LaHood Defends High-Speed Rail Program At House Hearing

|
It’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s birthday, and he’s spending it testifying before the House Transportation Committee. The hearing is on “Mistakes & Lessons Learned” from the high-speed rail program, but — no surprise here — LaHood and House Republicans have differing ideas about what “mistakes” have been made. Here are some highlights. Chair John Mica […]