The Administration’s proposals funding highway and transit programs are a step toward assisting Congress in advancing the long-delayed reauthorization legislation, said Commissioner Jack Lettiere, President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
The Administration’s budget proposes contract authority of $284 billion for highways and transit from FY 2004-2009, matched by an obligation limitation of $283.9 billion. That includes $235 billion for highways and $49 billion for transit over six years. Highway funding would increase from $36.6 billion in FY 2006 to $46.6 billion in FY 2009. Transit funding would increase from the FY 2005 level of $7.65 billion to roughly $9.5 billion by 2009.
However, the Administration’s highway funding proposal falls $10 billion short of AASHTO’s goal of at least $245 billion over six years, and the transit funding proposal falls $6 billion short of AASHTO’s $55 billion transit goal.
The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) expired September 30, 2003 and the Administration’s proposal includes the two fiscal years spending (FY 2004 and 2005) that have occurred in the absence of reauthorization legislation.
The last offer on the conference table when the 108th Congress adjourned last year was a proposal for $284 billion in guaranteed funding and $299 billion in contract authority.
However the proposal also called for a $15 billion rescission in the unused balance of contract authority held by the states.
“Not just transportation officials, but the American public is clamoring for an end to the 17-month stalemate that has delayed highway and transit projects that can relieve congestion, provide mobility for the aged, and improve safety for people on the roads and children on their way to school. We are pleased that the Administration’s proposal will help Congress to move quickly back to the conference table to pass this bill,” he said.
However, other transportation programs were on the Administration’s chopping block, including passenger rail, where federal funding drops from $1.2 billion to $360 million. “It is also hard to believe that the American public will tolerate the proposed federal abandonment of the Amtrak rail service which served 240 million passengers last year, and which also provides the only transportation linkage to many rural communities.
The Administration would like to rid itself of supporting Amtrak by foisting the costs off on the states, which already pick up a good portion of the $3 billion annual budget,” Lettiere said.
“Stable intercity passenger rail is important to the states. The states believe that it is time to resolve future funding assistance for all modes of transportation including rail passenger service,” said Joe Boardman, Commissioner of the New York Department of Transportation and Chairman of the AASHTO Standing Committee on Rail.
“AASHTO has called for the enactment of long-term legislation assuring that the nation’s travelers will have efficient and dependable intercity passenger rail service; and supports the funding needed for Amtrak to continue operation of current services and not interrupt vital commuter rail services while the Administration and the Congress engage with the states to chart the course toward a long-term, viable passenger rail system,” he said.
“It is now urgent that Amtrak, Congress, the Administration and the states work on reform in a way that will produce the intercity passenger rail system that meets the nation’s needs,” he concluded.
Also proposed for reduction is the Airport Improvement Program, which is supported by a ticket tax paid by airline passengers. The Administration has proposed reducing the AIP program from $3.47 billion to $3 billion.
Michael Barton, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and Chair of the AASHTO Standing Committee on Aviation said, “This seems a disproportionate cut for this user-fee funded program -- especially so at a time when airport capacity expansion is critically needed and security costs are mounting.”