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Chao talks on TIGER and FASTLANE grants


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Senators urge Chao to maintain TIGER grants

Fleet Owner  /  May 17, 2017

DOT secretary emphasizes need to streamline permitting process during hearing

Days before the Trump administration is expected to release its fiscal 2018 budget plan, senators asked Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to restore funding for a popular grant program.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program was part of the 2009 stimulus law, and has been popular among states and local governments ever since. However, no funding was included in the president’s “skinny” budget issued in March.

At a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on May 17, senators from both parties said TIGER grants leverage private investment, a stated goal of the administration, and should be revived as the blueprint for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan is finalized in the coming weeks.

“I know how popular they are with members of Congress,” Chao told the committee. “This particular issue about TIGER grants is something we are discussing. There may be a more holistic approach to infrastructure, and perhaps these TIGER grants will be recast in the future.”

Chao said she was not sure whether TIGER funding would be included when a full budget proposal is issued next week.

Separately, Chao said winners of the FASTLANE grant program, created out of the FAST Act, would soon be announced.

The TIGER issue was first raised by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who singled out a $14.6 million grant, miniscule when discussing a $1 trillion bill, to highlight how powerful the grants can be.

That award was given to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe to pave a dangerous gravel road leading to Highway 83, offering jobs and an economic lifeline to an extremely poor county.

“This is small in nature, but important,” Rounds said. “Rest assured we would love to give additional input and advice” regarding the grants.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) were others voicing support for TIGER.

The two-hour hearing was a mostly cordial gathering, with Chao and senators expressing a joint commitment to work together on infrastructure.

Chao provided few new details, again saying an initial plan will be issued within weeks.

She did emphasize the importance of streamlining the permitting and review process in order to get highway projects built more quickly.

Chao said it could be done “in way that is responsible,” with a focus on removing hurdles viewed as duplicative and only serve to slow down projects.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) stressed the importance of this step, and said he did not believe earlier congressional efforts to accomplish that goal had been properly implemented under the Obama administration.

In his opening remarks, EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) encouraged a formula-based approach to distribution funds to ensure rural and urban states all receive their fair share. 

"Using a formula-based approach will expedite the delivery of additional infrastructure spending which will ensure highway projects will be built faster, as opposed to adopting a new funding structure that is less understood by stakeholders," he said.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) was among several who inquired specifically about planning for freight projects.

Chao responded she is well aware of what is at stake.

“Freight is a very important part of our overall commerce and helps keep the economy vibrant,” she said. “We will do everything we can to facilitate commerce so it brings greater vitality and prosperity to our country.”

There was also consensus at the hearing that public-private partnerships should be part of the overall plan, but some cautioned it was only a small piece of the overall puzzle.

Many states have not yet considered PPPs, and Texas recently rejected a bill that would allow use of them to fund highway projects.

That feeling was shared by senators representing rural areas, where needed projects may not have a high-enough price tag to make PPPs a favorable option.

Conversely, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) indicated more PPPs should be considered.

“We should not discriminate against the private sector in their desire to help finance” these projects, he said.

Throughout the hearing, a familiar chorus of funding options was raised, from raising fuel taxes, increasing the use tolling, especially on new highways, and implanting a vehicle miles tax.

Beyond highway infrastructure, funding needs for passenger transit and water infrastructure were other main discussion areas. 

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FASTLANE Freight Grants to Be Announced Shortly, Secretary Chao Says

Transport Topics  /  May 17, 2017

The recipients of federal grants designed to assist states to pay for large-scale freight projects will be announced soon, the country’s top transportation officer told a Senate panel May 17.

“The department is set to award a number of FASTLANE grants very shortly,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Transportation agencies in Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia and Idaho are among the applicants seeking grants under the Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) program.

Chao explained that the grant program established in the 2015 FAST Act highway law is meant to provide financial assistance to projects that seek to improve safety, efficiency and reliability of the movement of freight and people, as well as reduce highway congestion and bottlenecks.

In July, DOT selected 18 projects to split $759 million in fiscal 2016 for freight programs.

The Florida Department of Transportation won a $10.7 million FASTLANE grant in July to help pay for a $23 million truck parking project. The project would deploy a real-time information system about commercial vehicle parking availability to help truckers find parking.

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  • 2 months later...

Senate's transport appropriations bill includes $550 million for TIGER program

Neil Abt, Fleet Owner  /  July 25, 2017

Committee schedules Thursday hearing on fiscal 2018 legislation

A Senate subcommittee advanced a fiscal 2018 transportation appropriations bill that includes funding for the popular TIGER grant program, a departure from the House legislation and President Trump’s budget request.

Overall, the Senate bill would provide $19.47 billion in discretionary appropriations for the U.S. Department of Transportation for fiscal 2018, $978 million above 2017 levels. The Senate Committee on Appropriations is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill on July 27 after the subcommittee chaired by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) approved it.

“This bipartisan bill is the product of considerable negotiation and compromise, and makes the necessary investments in our nation’s infrastructure … and provides funding for economic development projects that create jobs in our communities,” Collins said in a statement.

The Senate bill includes $550 million for the popular TIGER grant program, a $50 million increase from current levels. However, no funding for TIGER was included in the version of the bill that passed a House committee earlier this month. President Trump’s budget request did not include TIGER.

Collins made news after the hearing when she was heard on a microphone criticizing Trump’s “irresponsible” budget approach.

The Senate language calls for $45 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to go to the federal-aid highways program, which is consistent with the FAST Act. 

It includes $908.6 million for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and $744.8 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

No amendments were offered, at the request of Collins. Instead they will be considered during Thursday’s hearing. An amendment to the House bill would force FMCSA to study if there should be a delay to the electronic logging mandate. The House bill also contains language that would prohibit states' meal and rest break rules for truckers.

Once each of the bills are approved by the full legislative bodies, House and Senate negotiators will have to hammer out a single compromise version to send to Trump. 


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