House Members Declare FY19 Spending Priorities
April 24, 2018
On April 18, the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies held a hearing for House Members to address the subcommittee with concerns they have for both their constituencies and the nation as a whole for fiscal year 2019. Among subcommittee members present were chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), ranking minority member David Price (D-NC), and Rep. David Young (R-IA).
(Ed. Note: The annual “Member Day” hearing used to be a way for legislators to advocate for earmarks, but in the post-earmark era, it has become a bit more general.)
While addressing an array of housing and urban issues, legislators addressed a variety of transportation issues concerning their communities. An issue that continued to be presented was the continued funding of the Capital Investment Grant Program, which received $2.6 billion in FY18. This grant program is discretionary, and aimed at funding projects such as heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, or rapid bus investments within communities. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Thomas Suozzi (D-NY) both expressed their support for this funding, particularly in their districts, but had concerns over the implementation of these projects.
Chairman Diaz-Balart expressed his equal concern for the implementation of programs they authorize, explaining that in a recent meeting with the Department of Transportation and Secretary Chao the subcommittee was unsatisfied with the current timeline of CIG-funded programs. (See this earlier article for a discussion of the funding choices for the CIG program the Secretary must make soon.)
Another concern of both chairman Diaz-Balart and Rep. Jayapal was passenger train safety. Jayapal explained that her home district representing Seattle is only the most recent to be effected by an Amtrak derailment, and she argued that we should not be investing in expanded rail lines until the current lines ensure safety. Chairman Diaz-Balart concurred, explaining that he hoped the $250 million provided for Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation grants in FY2018 would continue, and that many of these accidents could and should have been prevented.
Beyond the implementation of Capital Investment Grants, Suozzi mentioned various issues with airport noise as a member of the Quiet Skies Caucus. This caucus is a bipartisan group with over 40 members from throughout the country, all facing district concerns with overhead aviation noise. Suozzi explained that with the implementation of NextGen, flight patterns are being streamlined to make them more direct, thus making them faster and burn less fuel, but it makes the streamlined locations significantly louder for those who live below. Following complaints, the FAA has committed to study alternative options for flight patterns and formulate a centralized complaint system as well as organize more community outreach, but legislators are concerned that this implementation will not occur in a timely manner (similar to CIG-funding implementation).
Suozzi expressed comparable concerns for helicopter flight noise, and requested that FY19 funding be allocated to helicopter regulation and research. Currently, the day-night average sound level (DNL) is legally set to not exceed 65 decibels, however the Quied Skies Caucus argues that this is outdated as it was implemented 10 years ago along with the enforcement of NextGen flight paths and modernized technology and travel.
In regard to infrastructure concerns, Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) expressed strong support for the Interstate 11 project, which is the first expansion of the US Interstate since its completion in 1992. The initial phase of the project would badge new Interstate between Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada, but also run through rural areas that are integral to trade, mobility, and economic growth. Particularly, the expansion allows for access to Hawthorne Army Depot, a major military facility in western Nevada.
(Ed. Note: Re-badging the Phoenix-Vegas route as Interstate was only made possible by the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge that opened in 2010. As long as the road ran over the top of the dam, and had the other extreme curves in the approaches to the dam, it was never going to be able to be upgraded to Interstate standards.)
Continued funding for this expansion, as well as TIGER grants (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery), were argued by several House Members to be integral to maintaining and expanding US infrastructure. TIGER grants received $1.5 billon in FY18, which was a $1 billion increase and a major step toward improving U.S. infrastructure.