Counties are an essential part of the nation’s infrastructure system. By providing efficient transportation and transit options such as buses, trains, light rail and subway systems, counties connect residents, businesses and communities and strengthen local economies. The nation’s counties annually invest more than $122 billion in building infrastructure and maintaining and operating public works. Counties own and maintain 46 percent of America’s roads, 38 percent of all bridges, 78 percent of America’s public transit systems and are involved in the operation of one-third of the nation’s airports.
U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
The FY 2018 omnibus provides $70.3 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), a $12.65 billion increase above FY 2017. Much of this increase was designed as part of a $10 billion infrastructure boost included in the Congressional budget agreement reached in February 2018.
Although the president recently released his $1.5 trillion, 10-year infrastructure plan, the omnibus does not include money for many of the new programs proposed by the White House and instead directs additional money at existing programs.
|THE OMNIBUS PROVIDES $10 BILLION IN INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING ACROSS SEVERAL FEDERAL AGENCIES AND PROGRAMS, INCLUDING:|
|INFRASTRUCTURE PROGRAMS IN FY18 OMNIBUS||INCREASE|
|DOT FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION’S CAPITAL INVESTMENT GRANTS||$2.6 BILLION|
|DOT DISCRETIONARY HIGHWAY FUNDING||$2.5 BILLION|
|DOT TIGER GRANTS||$1 BILLION|
|DOT HIGHWAY TRUST FUND||$1 BILLION|
|USDA RURAL BROADBAND PILOT PROGRAM (NEW)||$600 MILLION|
|USDA WATER AND WASTE GRANTS AND LOANS||$500 MILLION|
|HUD COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANT (CDBG)||$300 MILLION|
|HUD HOME INVESTMENT PARTNERSHIPS PROGRAM||$412 MILLION|
|DHS ELECTION INFRASTRUCTURE||$380 MILLION|
|EPA CLEAN WATER REVOLVING FUND||$300 MILLION|
|EPA DRINKING WATER REVOLVING FUND||$300 MILLION|
The omnibus bill allocates $45 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be spent on the Federal-Aid Highways Program, which is $3.5 billion above FY 2017 levels. This funding matches the levels authorized in the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” (FAST Act), enacted in 2015. Counties rely on this funding to maintain a strong federal-state-local partnership for the building and maintenance of American’s infrastructure.
- Major increase to TIGER Grant program: The omnibus triples funding for National Infrastructure Investment Grants (also known as TIGER grants), making $1.5 billion available until September 30, 2020. The omnibus strictly prohibits these funds from being “obligated for the Office of the Secretary of Transportation to approve assessments or reimbursable agreements pertaining to funds appropriated to the modal administrations.” Slated for elimination in the president’s FY 2018 and 2019 budget requests, TIGER Grants have a direct impact on counties’ ability to utilize federal dollars within communities.
- Funding for Road and Bridge Projects Increased: The omnibus provides $1.98 billion to fund road and bridge projects that qualify for the surface transportation block grant program. The bill funds Surface Transportation Block Grant Program at $11.67 billion, $242 million over the FY 2017 levels. This will provide added federal capital that will allow counties to address the renovation, expansion and rehabilitation of bridges.
- New Bridge Bundling Programs: The omnibus provides $225 million for a new discretionary competitive grant program for a highway bridge program for States that have a population density of less than 100 individuals per square mile. The funds will allow for highway bridge replacement or rehabilitation projects on public roads that demonstrate cost savings by bundling multiple highway bridge projects. Counties have utilized state bridge-bundling programs in the past, and this new federal investment will allow counties to pool their resources for greater buying power, providing much needed cost-savings for bridge projects.
- Transportation, Planning, Research, and Development: The omnibus provides $14 million for planning, research and development activities, which includes $1.5 million for the creation of a new office, the Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center (IIPIC). This builds upon the administration’s goal of streamlining the permit processing process, saving time and money for counties obtaining necessary federal permits to begin projects.
RAIL AND TRANSIT FUNDING
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is funded at $1.85 billion, an increase of $173 million over FY 2017 levels. The bill provides $13.5 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), $1 billion above FY 2017 levels.
- Amtrak: The bill provides $1.94 billion for Amtrak, an increase of almost $446 million, and specifically allocates $650 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and $1.29 billion to support the National Network. The final legislation also implements overtime limits for Amtrak employees to reduce unnecessary costs.
- Rail Safety: Rail safety and research programs are funded at $287 million, $29 million above FY 2017. This will fund inspectors, training and research programs. In addition, the bill provides $593 million for safety improvement grants and investments to physical rail infrastructure to help ensure the safety of passengers and local communities.
- Transit Formula Grants: Transit formula grants total $9.7 billion – consistent with FY 2017 authorization levels – to help local communities build, maintain and ensure the safety of their mass transit systems. Within this amount, $2.6 billion is provided for Capital Investment Grants.
- Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRIS) Grant Program: The bill provides $592.5 million for the CRIS Grant Program, $527.3 million above the FY 2017 level. These grants are meant to leverage private, state and local investments to boost a wide range of rail projects, including the potential for implementing positive train control, improving highway-rail grade crossings, mitigating congestion, repairing or replacing railroad assets, and enhancing intercity passenger rail transportation. The Gateway Project funding, intended to replace the Portal North Bridge and North River Tunnel to ease connections between New Jersey and New York’s Penn Station, has been a source of debate between the administration and members of Congress. The Gateway Project would be eligible to apply for the CRIS Grant Program for the requested $540 million without approval from DOT.
FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (FAA)
Included in the legislation is $18 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – $1.59 billion above FY 2017. Facing a March 30 deadline, FAA reauthorization was extended through FY 2018 to avert a shutdown of agency operations. This will provide funding for all air traffic control personnel, including over 14,000 air traffic controllers, 7,000 safety inspectors and operational support personnel. Counties play a critical role in the nation’s air transportation system. Counties own 34 percent of the nation’s publicly-owned airports. President Trump’s FY 2018 budget requested a shift of the air traffic control function of the FAA to an independent non-governmental organization, which could have negatively impacted counties if the new organization decided to either eliminate some tower functions or curtail hiring at major commercial hubs.
- Next Generation Air Transportation Systems (NextGen): The omnibus builds on several years of increased funding for the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation Systems (NextGen) by providing $1.3 billion, $300 million more than FY 2017, and funds Contract Towers at $165 million, $6 million more than FY 2017. These investments will help ease future congestion and reduce delays for travelers in U.S. airspace.
- Noise mitigation: The omnibus includes $2 million to address aviation noise concerns, including engaging the impacted communities. Counties are sometimes faced with flightpath noise disturbances, and this federal investment will allow for resources to be made available to address this issue.
- Essential Air Service (EAS) Program: The omnibus includes $155 million for the EAS Program, which complies with the 2014 Compliance Order capping the program at $200 million annually. The $155 million dollars in FY 2018 is a $5 million increase above the FY 2017 level and a $57 million increase above President Trump’s FY 2018 budget request. The EAS program assists airlines in serving rural counties impacted by federal deregulation of the airlines industry.
- Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP): The omnibus includes $10 million for the Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP), a $5 million increase above the FY 2017 level. SCASDP provides communities the opportunity to self-identify their air service needs and propose solutions. Participation in the program is limited to those communities where the airport is not larger than a primary small hub, the service is insufficient and the air fares to the community are unreasonably high.
TRANSPORTATION SAFETY PROGRAMS
The legislation contains funding for various transportation safety programs and agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): The omnibus provides $200 million in total budgetary resources for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an increase of $20.5 million over the FY 2017 level, and $845 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, $201 million over the FY 2017 level.
- Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA): Also included in the omnibus is $272 million for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an increase of $8 million over FY 2017.
- Autonomous Vehicles: The omnibus includes new funding of more than $100 million for research and demonstrations of automated vehicles, with $60 million being directed toward demonstration grants. Since counties own 45 percent of the nation’s roads, we must not only be prepared, but also take an active role in how this technology is implemented and regulated.
- Policy Rider on Truck Drivers’ Hours Transporting Livestock: The bill includes NACo supported language to exempt livestock and insect haulers from the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) and Hours of Service Final Rule through FY 2018. Federal regulation mandating the use of an electronic logging device for agricultural transportation drivers does not take into account delays drivers will encounter in the process of loading, unloading and transporting livestock, which could result in inhumane animal treatment, devalued livestock pricing and further economic hardship to rural counties.
Not included in the omnibus
As in previous years, there is no funding provided for high-speed rail. NACo supports efforts to improve and expand regional and national high-speed rail service to serve those counties and regions that would benefit from such services. However, NACo opposes the use of funds from the Highway Trust Fund for high-speed rail and believes there should be no preemption of state and local taxing authority and no negative impact on any current commuter rail funding.