House Subcommittee Approves FY20 Transportation-HUD Bill

House Subcommittee Approves FY20 Transportation-HUD Bill

May 22, 2019  | Jeff Davis

May 23, 2019 

This morning, the House Subcommittee on Transportation-Housing Appropriations formally approved the draft fiscal year 2020 Transportation-Housing appropriations bill. The bill text is here and a three-page PDF of a table showing all account-level funding totals is here.

As has become customary, no amendments were offered at the subcommittee markup, and the opening statements were all congratulatory and collegial. Subcommittee chairman David Price (D-NC) said that his bill focused on three areas – infrastructure, safety, and protecting vulnerable populations. Subcommittee ranking member Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and full committee ranking member Kay Granger (R-TX) both complained about certain transportation policy “riders” in the bill – bans on DOT issuing rules on trucker meal and rest breaks and on CAFE standards, and a prohibition against taking money back from the California high-speed rail project – but the Republicans were largely deferential to the bill’s spending priorities.

While the bill overall received a $75.8 billion allocation of discretionary budget authority from Appropriations chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), which on its face is a $4.7 billion increase over last year, a reduction in the estimated offsetting receipts from housing mortgage insurance programs mean that the “real” increase over last year is $2.5 billion. The Department of Transportation receives $25.5 billion in gross appropriations under the draft bill, a $1.2 billion decrease (-4.6 percent) over 2019. HUD got a funding boost in real terms (excluding the offsetting receipts) of $3.7 billion.

The full Appropriations Committee will mark up the bill at some point during the week of June 3, 2019.

Big picture.

Each year, the bulk of Department of Transportation funding comes in the form of contract authority from the Highway Trust Fund (most recently provided by the FAST Act) or the Airport and Airway Trust Fund for the Airport Improvement Program. The Appropriations Committees set an annual ceiling on how much of that cumulative contract authority can be used in any given year (obligation limitation), but this funding no longer counts towards the appropriators’ budget allocations, so they have no reason to lower the obligation limits below the levels prescribed in authorization laws.

DOT also gets a small amount of mandatory funding outside the appropriations process ($739 million per year in highway contract authority exempt from limit, the PHMSA Emergency Preparedness Fund, and the amount of fee-supported Essential Air Service subsidies funded by overflight fees, which vary from year to year).

But the traditional role of appropriators is providing annual discretionary funding. In this case, the full committee gives the Transportation-HUD Subcommittee a lump sum of money to use as it sees fit for the agencies and programs under its jurisdiction. These overall totals got a massive shot in the arm for FY 2018 and 2019 under the two-year budget deal enacted in February 2018, and the House is now writing its bills assuming that these high spending levels will continue into 2020 (though this will require another budget deal to be enacted into law first). (This was the only real point of contention in the subcommittee markup – Republicans pointed out that without overall totals agreed to by the House, the Senate, and the President, the bills were based on “fake numbers,” and enacting bills at the House’s spending levels will cause another round of budgetary sequestration unless a law increasing the spending caps is enacted.)

Add all that money together, and you can see that the FAST Act provided a boost of over $1 billion per year over the last few years, and mandatory funding has stayed constant. But this year, the FAST Act increase is offset by discretionary cuts so that the gross funding total (before receipts and rescissions) is $87.7 billion, only slightly ahead of last year’s $87.6 billion.

Why the $1.2 billion cut in DOT discretionary funding? The appropriators clearly gave HUD, not DOT, priority this year. The following table shows that in gross terms, HUD got a $3.7 billion increase, plus its offsetting receipts from mortgage insurance premiums were predicted by CBO to drop by $2.2 billion, which gives a HUD net increase of $5.9 billion, offset by $1.2 billion in DOT cuts gives the overall increase in the net subcommittee budget allocation of $4.7 billion:

FY19 FY20
Enacted House Delta
DOT (Net) 26.510 25.327 -1.183
HUD (Gross) 53.762 57.460 +3.698
HUD (Receipts) -9.554 -7.396 2.158
Other (Net) 0.361 0.380 +0.019
TOTAL 71.079 75.771 +4.692

$1.9 billion of the HUD increase was somewhat uncontrollable –it was the cost of renewing the expiring section 8 vouchers and project-based rental agreements, and if you underfund those, you throw people out of the homes they currently occupy. The HOME program got a +$500 million boost and community development block grants got a $236 million increase over last year.

At USDOT, the general fund discretionary supplements for trust fund contract authority programs – supplements which never existed before the FY18-19 budget deal gave the appropriators more money than they knew how to spend on their regular programs – decrease from $4.45 billion, collectively, in FY19 to $3.00 billion in FY20 ($500 million for airports, $1.750 billion for highways, $750 million for transit), a cut of $1.45 billion, which entirely comes out of highways. This means that all the other USDOT discretionary programs collectively increase by about $275 million. And almost all of that increase goes to FAA Operations (+$267 million), and all of that for aviation safety (air traffic control and other overhead is all frozen). Below, the structure of the DOT portion of the bill, in billions of dollars:

FY19 FY20
Enacted House Delta
FAA Operations 10.411 10.678 +0.267
GF Supplements 4.450 3.000 -1.450
All Other USDOT 11.649 11.649 0.000
USDOT Net Total 26.510 25.319 -1.183

Within that “All Other USDOT” line, most accounts are frozen at their FY 2019 level. The BUILD grant program gets a $100 million boost (from $900 million back to $1.0 billion), CRISI rail grants get a $95 million increase, Amtrak Northeast Corridor grants get a $50 million boost, and there are some R&D funding increases in OST-R and NHTSA, but these are offset by a reduction of $250 million in mass transit Capital Investment Grants and a cut of $50 million in FRA Fed-State SOGR Partnership grants.

Breaking that down into capital grants versus other kinds of USDOT funding, the following colorful doughnut chart breaks down the $25.3 billion in discretionary budget authority in the House bill into four main tranches (FAA Capital means the Facilities & Equipment account):

In the above chart, “capital grants” means BUILD, the general fund supplements for the highway, transit and airport grant programs, both accounts for Amtrak grants (and yes, we know there is operating subsidy money built into the National Network account, but you can’t pull that out at the account level), the CRISI and Fed-State SOGR and maglev rail grant programs, the CIG and WMATA transit grant accounts, and the MARAD port grant account. 

Using that same four-way breakdown of the USDOT budget in the doughnut chart above, one can see just how radically the FY 2018-2019 budget caps deal altered the landscape, compared to FY 2017, the last year under what were called (somewhat inaccurately) “sequestration years,” in billions of dollars:

Traditionally, there were about 5 or 6 USDOT budget accounts each year that collectively added up to about 90 percent of all USDOT discretionary funding. That number has more than doubled since the FY18-19 budget deal. Here are all the discretionary accounts that have received appropriations of at least $500 million in either the 2018 law, the 2019 law, or the President’s budget request, or the House FY20 bill:

vs. FAST Act.

The House bill meets or exceeds the Highway Trust Fund authorized funding levels for the final year of the FAST Act. HTF obligation limitations are $1 million over FAST recommended (the overage is at FMCSA motor carrier safety grants) and, counting the general fund highway and transit supplements, the House bill gives those 104 percent of the FAST authorized level. For general fund discretionary appropriations, the House bill provides 106 percent of the FAST Act authorized levels, as shown in the able below.

Following is a mode-by-mode analysis of the bill. 

Aviation.

The big news is a mode-wide budget freeze at the Federal Aviation Administration, in every account/activity except aviation safety, which receives the entire $267 million budget increase given to the FAA by the House bill. In millions of dollars:

FY19 FY20
Operations Enacted House Delta
Air Traffic Organization 7,841.7 7,841.7 0.0
Aviation Safety 1,337.0 1,604.0 +267.0
NextGen 61.3 61.3 0.0
Commercial Space 24.9 24.9 0.0
Security and Hazmat 114.2 114.2 0.0
Other (Overhead) 1,031.7 1,031.7 0.0
Total, Operations 10,410.8 10,677.8 +267.0
Facilities & Equipment 3,000.0 3,000.0 0.0
Research, Engin. & Develop. 191.1 191.1 0.0
Airport Grants (Trust Fund) 3,350.0 3,350.0 0.0
Airport Grants (General Fund) 500.0 500.0 0.0
Total, FAA 17,451.9 17,718.9 +267.0

Not only does safety get the entire $267 million increase in the Operations account, the bill text prohibits the FAA from transferring any money out of safety (all other activities within Operations can transfer up to 5 percent of their money back and forth as needed). The bill sets aside no less than $169 million of the Operations funding for the contract tower program.

Within the airport grant program, the set-asides for airport technology research, airport cooperative research, small community air service, and Secret Service TFR airports are all frozen at the FY 2019 levels.

Within the Office of the Secretary, the bill appropriations $175 million for the discretionary side of the Essential Air Service subsidy program, the same as last year.

In title III of the bill, the National Transportation Safety Board receives an appropriation of $110.4 million, the same as last year.

Highways.

The House bill provides the full $46.365 billion obligation limitation on federal-aid highways contract authority promised by the FAST Act, a $1.1 billion increase over 2019. However, the general fund supplement for the trust fund account falls from $3.25 billion in 2019 to $1.75 billion in 2020, a $1.5 billion reduction, so the overall funding level for the Federal Highway Administration under the House bill falls by $404 million, to $48.854 billion (once the $739 million in annual non-appropriated funding is added in).

Within the $1.75 billion supplement, almost $1.5 billion is set aside for formula grants to states. The money can be used for any activity under the Surface Transportation Block Grant program (the full list is in 23 U.S.C. 133(b)), or for installation of rail-highway grade crossings, or for hazard elimination, or for the installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 55 percent of that $1.5 billion is to be sub-allocated within a state by population.

The rest of the $1.75 billion is distributed as follows, in millions of dollars.

FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2020
Enacted Enacted Request House
Federal-Aid Highways 2,525.0 3,250.0 300.0 1,750.0
Formula – §133(b)(1)(A) – STBGP 1,980.0 2,729.0 0.0 1,493.1
Bridge Replacement Grants 225.0 475.0 300.0 0.0
Significant Fed. Lands/Tribal 300.0 25.0 0.0 166.0
Puerto Rico Highways 15.8 16.0 0.0 5.5
Territorial Highways 4.2 5.0 0.0 1.4
Accel. Digital Construction Manage. 0.0 0.0 0.0 15.0
Regional Infra. Accelerator Demo 0.0 0.0 0.0 12.0
Nat. Road Network Pilot Program 0.0 0.0 0.0 5.0
Tribal Road Safety Research 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.0

The Administration had requested a $1.035 billion general fund supplement for FHWA’s INFRA grant program (requested under the Office of the Secretary), but this request was ignored by the appropriators.

In terms of new general provisions:

  • Section 125 once again gives states the power to reprogram “dead earmarks” within that state’s boundaries. If a highway earmark is more than 10 years old and has had less than 10 percent of its funding obligated, a state can then use that money for any STBGP-eligible activity within 5 miles of the location of the earmark.
  • Section 126 relates to New York City bridge tolling on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. It repeals three old provisions of law related to bridge tolling (section 324 of the FY 1986 DOT appropriations act, section 352 of the NHS Designation Act of 1995, and section 325 of the FY 1996 DOT appropriations act) and replaces them with a statement that “tolls collected for motor vehicles on any bridge connecting the boroughs of Brooklyn, New York, and Staten Island, New York, shall be collected for any such vehicles exiting from such bridge in both Staten Island and Brooklyn.”
  • Section 127 repeals 23 U.S.C. §125(d) which limits the discretion of the FHWA Administrator to fund emergency relief projects and requires all such funding to go to Stafford Act declared emergencies5/24/19 p.m. update – the bill only repeals (d)(4), which limits total ER total obligations for any fiscal year in the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to $20 million. (Apologies – I was in a hurry.)
  • Section 128 requires FWHA to process Buy America waiver requests without regard to the proposed rule promulgated on April 17, 2018, until that rule is finalized.
  • Section 129 repeals section 1948 of SAFETEA-LU, which prohibited federal funding for demolishing a bridge between Fall River and Somerset, Massachusetts.
  • Section 129A requires that states develop and implement their NHPP asset management plans required by 23 U.S.C. §119 by September 30 of this year, or the federal share for NHPP projects will drop from 80 percent to 65 percent. This was requested by the Trump Administration.

Mass transit.

The House bill provides a total of $13.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration in fiscal 2020, $60.5 million more than the 2019 law. This includes an increase of $211 million in the obligation limitation on the transit formula grants account (the exact amount promised by the FAST Act), a $50 million increase in the general fund supplement for that trust fund account, and a $3.8 million increase in FTA administrative expenses. This is offset by a $251 million cut in the Capital Investment Grants account (down to $2.302 billion, the exact amount authorized by the FAST Act) and the absence of a $47 million rescission that occurred in the 2019 law.

The $750 million in general fund supplements for the Transit Formula Grants account is as follows, in millions of dollars:

FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2020
Enacted Enacted Request House
Transit Formula Grants 834.0 700.0 500.0 750.0
Formula – §5337 – SOGR 400.0 263.0 250.0 250.0
Formula – §5340(d) – High Density 30.0 40.0 0.0 0.0
Formula – §5311 – Rural 0.0 40.0 0.0 0.0
Formula – §5339(a) – Buses 209.1 160.0 0.0 0.0
Discretionary – §5339(b) – Buses 161.4 160.0 250.0 389.0
Discretionary – §5339(c) – No/Low 29.5 30.0 0.0 94.0
Bus Testing Facilities 4.0 7.0 0.0 7.0
Areas of Persistent Poverty 0.0 0.0 0.0 10.0

The programs haven’t changed from last year (the amounts have), except the House does not include the Rhode Island-centric bridge grant program from 2019, and the House adds a new program directing FTA to spend $10 million on “competitive grants to eligible entities to assist areas of persistent poverty…[which] means any county that has consistently had 20 percent or more of the population living in poverty over the 30 years preceding the date of enactment of this Act, as measured by the 1990 and 2000 decennial census and the most recent Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, or any census tract with a poverty rate of at least 20 percent as measured by the 2013-2017 five-year data series available from the American Community Survey of the Census Bureau.” (See also a similar set-aside in the BUILD grant program, below.)

With regards to the Capital Investment Grant program, the bill funds all current projects that have signed full funding grant agreements (FFGAs), adds an additional $703 million for future new start projects, an additional $100 million for future core capacity improvement projects, an additional $431 million for small starts, and $50 million for the project delivery pilot program established by the FAST Act.

Given the intense disagreements between the Appropriations Committees and the Trump Administration over the CIG account, the House bill ties the Administration’s hands in several ways using legislative language:

  • Of the $2.302 billion appropriation, $1.841 billion must be obligated by December 31, 2021, or else the money will automatically be allocated to applicants with projects in the Engineering phase as of that date, to be distributed between such projects based on that project’s requested CIG funding as a percentage of all requests in the Engineering phase. (If the Hudson River Tunnel ever gets to the Engineering phase, it would probably eat up most of that money because its CIG request is so large.)
  • The bill continues to require that FTA “continue to administer the capital investment grants program in accordance with the procedural and substantive requirements of section 5309 of title 49.”
  • The bill requires FTA, within 90 days of enactment, to send Congress a list of projects to which they expect to award FFGAs in FY 2020.
  • Section 164(b) of the bill prevents FTA from requesting or requiring that any CIG project have a federal CIG share lower than 50 percent of project cost.
  • Section 164(c) of the bill prevents FTA from determining the maximum CIG share of a project until at least 180 days after it has entered into the Engineering phase.
  • Section 164(d) states that, for CIG projects in the Project Development phase or the Engineering phase, FTA cannot, “when making a determination about whether a project sponsor’s cost estimate is reasonable, …require a probability higher than 50 percent that a project can be completed within that cost estimate.” (This also appears Gateway-related.)
  • And speaking of the Gateway program and both its Hudson River Tunnel and Portal North Bridge components, in the back of the DOT title of the bill, section 193 amends the TIFIA statute in 23 U.S.C. §603 to state that “the proceeds of a secured loan under the TIFIA program shall be considered to be part of the non-Federal share of project costs required under this title or chapter 53 of title 49, if the loan is repayable from non-Federal funds.” If this proviso is enacted into law, it will clear up one of the major delays on both Gateway projects.

In other transit news, section 164(a) of the bill suspends the application of the “Rostenkowski Test” in the Internal Revenue Code for fiscal 2020, which prevents the 12 percent across-the-board cuts in Transit Formula Grants contract authority which would otherwise be required on October 1 because unfunded liabilities of the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund are now projected to exceed for years of future excise tax revenues. (See this ETW article for more details.) And the House bill once again appropriates $150 million for the D.C.-area WMATA transit agency, even though the authorization for that funding has now expired (it was a 10-year, $1.5 billion authorization, and the FY 2019 installment of $150 million was the last payment).

Rail. 

The Federal Railroad Administration receives $3.0 billion in appropriations in the bill, $96 million more than in 2019. The FRA accounts for Safety and Operations and for Railroad R&D receive funding increases of $5 million and $1 million, respectively, over last year.

The bill maintains last year’s (and the year before’s) $1.292 billion funding level for grants to Amtrak to support its National Network. The other Amtrak account, capital subsidy grants for the Northeast Corridor, gets a $50 million boost over last year, to $700 million. Within the NEC appropriation, $50 million is again set aside to bring stations up to Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, and $5 million is set aside for the expenses of the Northeast Corridor Commission. ($2 million of the National Network appropriation is for the State-Supported Route Commission.) Section 151 of the bill prohibits Amtrak from reducing the size of its police force below the staffing level on May 1, 2019.

With regards to the new grant programs established by the FAST Act of 2015 (or by last year’s appropriations act), here are the totals, in millions of dollars:

The CRISI program also sets aside $40 million for grade crossing upgrades “for commuter authorities, as defined as section 24102(2) of title 49, United States Code, that experienced at least one accident investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2018” and $55 million for capital projects “that require the acquisition of rights-of-way, track, or track structure to support the development of new intercity passenger rail service routes.”In the bill language for the State of Good Repair partnership grant program, the bill directs FRA to put out the funding availability notice for the money within 30 days of enactment and to announce project selection within 180 days of enactment. The CRISI program has similar 30 day/180 day deadlines.

In the back of the bill, section 192 prohibits any funding in the bill from being “used to terminate a grant or cooperative agreement with the California High Speed Rail Authority, de-obligate funding associated with a grant or cooperative agreement with the California High Speed Rail Authority, or require the State of California or the California High Speed Rail Authority to repay funding previously obligated and expended.” In the event that DOT deobligates California’s $929 million FY 2010 grant before the bill is enacted into law, section 192(c) provides that the deobligated funds “may not be made available for any purpose until the final determination of any litigation concerning those funds” and that, if California loses the lawsuit, the money has to go back out via a NOFO issued within 30 days of the end of the lawsuit and can only go to projects with a completed EIS.

Section 194 of the bill extends by one year the FAST Act’s four-year provision allowing the RRIF loan program to make loans that “finance economic development, including commercial and residential development, and related infrastructure and activities, that-(i) incorporates private investment [and] (ii) is physically or functionally related to a passenger rail station or multimodal station that includes rail service…”

In title III of the bill, the Surface Transportation Board receives the same appropriation as last year – $37.1 million, offset by $1.25 million in user fees to a net $34.84 million.

Motor carrier safety.

The House bill meets the FAST Act authorized levels for Highway Trust Fund contract authority for the two Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration accounts – $288 million for Operations and Programs, and $389 million for Motor Carrier Safety Grants. That latter number is $1 million above the FAST Act level – the House bill reprograms $1 million in unused TEA21 contract authority and applies it to CMV operator grants.

The House bill contains two provisions relating to the thorny issue of meal and rest breaks for truckers and the federal preemption of state laws pertaining thereto. Section 133 prevents FMCSA from reviewing or issuing a decision on a petition to preempt state meal and rest break laws that may differ from those in 49 C.F.R. 395. And section 135 prohibits FMCSA, during FY 2020, from promulgating or enforcing a rule to eliminate the 30 minute rest break specified in 49 C.F.R. 395 as it was in operational effect on May 15, 2019.

With regards to the other policy provisions in the bill, section 131 continues the provision from last year’s law suspending the electronic logging device (ELD) rule for carriers of livestock or live insects. Section 132 request FMCSA to update its inspection regulations to require annual inspection of rear underride guards. And section 134 requires FMCSA to put its analysis of violations under the CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) system, notwithstanding part II of subtitle B of the FAST Act.

Highway safety.

The House bill provides a total of $1.01 billion for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in fiscal year 2020, a $44 million increase from 2019. Under the FAST Act, the obligation levels on contract authority for the Operations and Research account increase by $3.2 million, to $155.3 million, and the levels for the Highway Traffic Safety Grants account increase by $12.8 million, to $623.0 million.

Last year, the appropriators also included $14 million from the general fund for safety activities to fight impaired driving and promote grade crossing awareness, and that appropriation increases to $17 million in the House bill (in section 143), along with a new provision in section 144 providing $500 thousand for a new study of child-specific safety considerations in vehicles equipped with Automated Driving Systems.

But most of the extra money, and new policy, is in the general fund appropriation for the vehicle safety portion of the Operations and Research account, which increases by $24 million (13 percent) over 2019. Of the total $214 million provided, no less than $18.5 million “shall be for research on Automated Driving Systems, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, and vehicle electronics and cybersecurity.”

Section 145 of the House bill prohibits DOT, during FY 2020, from finalizing or enforcing the proposed rule canceling scheduled CAFE fuel economy standards that was issued by NHTSA and EPA on August 2, 2018, “or any other successor rule.” And section 146 of the House bill prohibits DOT, during FY 2020, from enforcing the “maintenance of effort” requirement of the FAST Act as codified in 23 U.S.C. §405(a)(9) that requires states to keep their highway safety program funding above the average of the two years before the FAST Act was enacted.

Maritime.

The House bill provides $1.05 billion for the Maritime Administration, $63 million less than in 2019. The two biggest accounts are frozen at last year’s level – the $300 million for the Maritime Security Program (the only USDOT account in the defense category) and $345 million for the State Maritime Academies (of which $300 million is to buy yet another full-size training ship for one of the academies).

The Operations and Training account gets a $5 million boost over last year, to $154.4 million. A little over half of that money goes to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and the bill also sets aside $15 million of the money for grants under the marine highway program (Short Sea Transportation Program).

The port infrastructure grant program – which was created by the appropriations conference committee that wrote the 2019 act – gets $225 million, a $68 million decrease vs. 2019. The bill clarifies that the money can go towards coastal seaports or Great Lakes ports. Projects must be “directly related to port operations or to an intermodal connection to a port that will improve the safety, efficiency, or reliability of the movement of goods into, out of, around, or within a port, as well as the unloading and loading of cargo at a port” – but funds “may not be used to purchase fully-automated cargo handling equipment or to otherwise facilitate fully-automated cargo handling.” The maximum federal share of a grant shall be 80 percent, and the bill includes language ensuring that TIFIA and RRIF loans are counted as part of the non-federal share if repayable by non-federal funds.

The smaller MARAD accounts are frozen at last year’s levels – $20 million for aid to small shipyards, $5 million for ship disposal, and $3 million to administer the title XI shipbuilding loan program.

The House bill also provides $40 million for operations and maintenance of the St. Lawrence Seaway, an increase of $4 million over 2019.

In title III of the bill, the Federal Maritime Commission receives an appropriation of $28 million, an increase of $510 thousand over last year.

Pipelines and hazmat.

The House bill provides $281 million in gross discretionary and mandatory funding for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The Operational Expenses account is frozen at last year’s $23.7 million and the Hazardous Materials Safety account gets a $3 million increase, to $61 million.

$145 million of appropriations for the Pipeline Safety account are completely offset by anticipated user fee collections from the pipeline safety fees ($137 million) and the underground gas facility safety fee ($8 million). Another $23 million for that account comes from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The Emergency Preparedness Fund once again receives a $28.3 million obligation limitation on its mandatory budget authority.

The bill requires PHMSA, within 90 days of enactment, to initiate a rulemaking on automatic and remote-controlled shut-off valves and hazardous liquid pipeline facilities leak detection systems as required under section 4 and section 8 of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (Public Law 112–90), respectively, and to issue a final rule no later than one year after enactment.

BUILD grants and other Office of the Secretary.

The House bill provides an even $1.0 billion for the BUILD grant program (formerly known as TIGER) within the Office of the Secretary. This is (for once) equal to the amount requested by the Administration. Of that total, the following amounts are set aside in specific dollar amounts:

  • $25.0 million for program oversight.
  • $15.0 million for “the planning, preparation or design of projects eligible for funding under this heading, with an emphasis on transit, transit oriented development, and multimodal projects.”
  • $20.0 million for “the planning, preparation or design of projects eligible for funding under this heading located in areas of persistent poverty.” The definition of “areas of persistent poverty” is the same as under the poverty set-side under the FTA Transit Formula Grant general fund supplement, above.

Grant size. The House bill increases the maximum BUILD grant size from $25 million (the max in FY17-19) to $50 million. The minimum grant size is $5 million for projects in urban areas, $1 million in rural areas, and there is no minimum grant size for the planning grants or the persistent poverty area grants.

Single-state max. The House bill sets the maximum amount of FY20 grants that can go to any one state at 15 percent of the overall total, which is less than the 20 percent suggested by the Administration but more than the 10 percent single-state max in effect FY 2017-2019. (In the early days of the TIGER program the single-state max was 25 percent.)

Urban-rural. As in 2019, the House bill establishes a precise 50-50 split between grants in urban areas and grants in rural areas (“not more than 50 percent” for rural areas as well as “not less than 50 percent” for urban areas). The definition of rural is outside an urbanized area with a population over 200,000.

NOFO and criteria. The House bill requires a new NOFO for the FY20 funds and requires that “the Secretary shall consider and award projects based solely on the selection criteria from the fiscal year 2017 Notice of Funding Opportunity” – but, “notwithstanding the previous proviso, the Secretary shall not use the Federal share or an applicant’s ability to generate non-Federal revenue as a selection criteria in awarding projects.”

In general. The House bill requires the Secretary to “take such measures so as to ensure an equitable geographic distribution of funds, an equitable distribution of funds between urban and rural areas, and the investment in a variety of transportation modes, including public transit, passenger rail, and pedestrian improvements.” The bill retains the limitation that no more than 20 percent of the money can be used for TIFIA and RRIF subsidies (but the amount used for subsidies has never been anywhere near that level).

In other parts of OST, the appropriation for Salaries and Expenses is frozen at last year’s $113.9 million – however, in section 104 of the bill, another $2.05 million is appropriated for that account once the Secretary announces the recipient of the grants using fiscal year 2017 and 2018 appropriations under three FRA  grant programs: the Federal-State SOGR Partnership program, the CRISI grant program, and the Restoration and Enhancement grant program.

A lot is happening within the research accounts in OST this year. The Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology gets its budget increased fivefold, from $8.5 million in 2019 to $42.9 million in 2020. Of that amount, $15 million is for new competitive grants for Tier I University Transportation Centers, $1 million is for a new TRB study of the resilience of transportation systems to natural disasters (sec. 105) , and $10 million is “for the establishment of a Highly Automated Systems Safety Center of Excellence within the Department of Transportation, in order to have a Department of Transportation workforce capable of reviewing, validating, and certifying the safety of automated technologies” (sec. 106).

And the Transportation Planning, Research and Development account gets its budget doubled, from $7.9 million to $15.9 million. Of that amount, the bill directs $1 million to the expenses of the Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center.

All the other OST discretionary accounts not mentioned above are frozen at the 2019 levels except the minority business accounts, which merge and receive a collective $658 thousand increase.

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