Over the past two weeks developments on the Hill have been mostly behind the scenes as members return to town this week to begin conference meetings on a long term transportation reauthorization bill. An agency report showed that the transportation sector lost 17,000 jobs in April, despite an overall increase in job growth in the United States, and five states received invitations to advance to the next stage of this round of the TIFIA program.
On the Hill
This week Congress returns to Washington after a week of recess to begin conference work on a transportation reauthorization bill. The 47 member conference comprises 14 Senators (eight Democrats and six Republicans) and 33 Representatives (20 Republicans and 13 Democrats). Earlier this year, the Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion bill and the House passed a 90-day extension with provisions that included approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, state regulation of coal-ash and environmental streamlining. While many of these provisions have drawn bipartisan support in the past, Democrats have spoken of their preference to keep any legislation focused solely on transportation funding in order to keep from jeopardizing viability for a long-term bill. House Republicans have made clear that they want any bill to include the House-passed measures. Conference meetings will begin this week as members try to compromise before current funding ends on June 30.
This week the House of Representatives plans to vote on legislation to extend the Export-Import Bank’s authority to help finance export sales for three years and raise its lending limit to $140 billion by 2014. Officials project the bank will reach its $100 billion lending cap by the end of May. Manufacturers, including Boeing, had supported extending the bank’s authority and raising its lending cap.
At the Agencies
Statistics released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the nation’s economy added 115,000 jobs in April. However, the job growth did not extend into the transportation sector, reporting a loss of 17,000 jobs in the month of April. Many hope that these new statistics will urge Congress to pass a long-term reauthorization bill before the November elections.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that rural electric cooperative utilities in 10 states will receive $334 million in loan funds from the USDA’s Rural Development Rural Utility Service. The loans will be spent developing smart grid technology and improvements to power infrastructure.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced the release of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) guidance for railroads and public transit agencies to help keep pedestrians safe near train stations. As required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, FRA developed the document, Pedestrian Crossing Safety at or Near Passenger Stations, in consultation with rail safety partners in government, industry and labor.
In the States
New York: On May 4, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that a second round of $750 million will be available in competitive awards for the state’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils. Last year, New York awarded $785 million in economic development grants to the 10 regional development councils. Additionally, Governor Cuomo announced the members of the NY Works Task Force – a 13-member panel that will oversee the state’s infrastructure projects. The federal government has declined New York’s request to give the state a low-interest loan to help fund the new Tappan Zee Bridge. Earlier this year, the state requested a $2 billion TIFIA loan (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) to help cover the cost of the $5.2 billion dollar project. TIFIA loans are used for large-scale state infrastructure projects ($50 million or more) and are not to exceed 33 percent of total project costs. Despite this setback, New York officials are optimistic that the project will receive federal assistance in the next round of TIFIA funding.
Oklahoma: On April 25 the Oklahoma Senate passed legislation to create an infrastructure bank to receive and distribute federal funds for state infrastructure projects. The bank is slated to receive funds through the federal TIFIA program and then the bank will approve loans and grants to in-state transportation infrastructure projects.
Missouri: The Missouri Senate has killed a bill that would have permitted tolls along most of Interstate 70 in Missouri. The bill would have allowed a private company to collect tolls in exchange for financing improvements to I-70. However, the bill faced strong opposition from the state’s trucking and gas station industries, along with citizens who were against further increasing the cost of driving. The Missouri Senate instead chose to form a committee to study all of the state’s infrastructure needs over the course of the next year.
California: The widening of the Riverside Freeway was one of five projects across the nation to receive a low-interest TIFIA loan. The Riverside Freeway is one of California’s busiest highways and connects Riverside and Orange counties. The project will add an additional lane in each direction, extend the 91 Express Lanes, and make general improvements to nearby streets. The TIFIA loan will be $444 million and the entire project is slated to cost approximately $1.3 billion.
On Wednesday, May 9 at 9 a.m. the Energy and Power of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on Environmental and Grid Reliability and Hydropower Development.
On Thursday, May 10 at 9:30 a.m. the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing titled "Supporting American Jobs and the Economy through Expanded Energy Production: Challenges and Opportunities of Unconventional Resources Technology."