Larsen: Jobs And The Economy Get Green Light With Transportation Bill

Several Larsen-led provisions included in final bill advance Washington state’s transportation priorities

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The five-year, job-creating transportation bill the U.S. House of Representatives passed today includes several provisions championed by Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, that will improve Washington state’s transportation infrastructure. Larsen, a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, hailed the long-term transportation bill (known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST, Act) as a win for Pacific Northwest jobs and the economy that will give communities the certainty needed to invest in critical infrastructure projects.

Washington state is set to receive a total of $3.5 billion in highway funding and $1.2 billion in transit funding over the life of the bill, an increase over current funding of $437 million.

“Job-creating investments in our roads, bridges, highways, ferries, trails and transit got the green light today with a long-term transportation bill that will put people to work and keep our economy moving. Transportation means jobs in Washington state, which is why I pushed hard to make sure this bill included Pacific Northwest priorities.

“With five years of funding, cities, counties and states will finally be able to count on reliable funding to build up and fix the infrastructure people depend on every day to get to work and school. I would have liked to see a bigger overall investment in one of the best job-creating industries we have, but I am pleased the final version of the bill boosts funding by $12 billion over current levels.

“When I talk with transportation stakeholders in Washington state, I hear about the issues they are facing every day. From ferryboats, which are an extension of our highway system, to trails and better funding for midsized cities, I pushed for our state’s priorities. The bill includes my language to improve the financial accountability of ferry systems and eliminate the loophole allowing private ferry programs to receive public dollars. These changes that I championed will help our ferry system in Washington state that serves as a lifeline for thousands of people.

“Sidewalks, trails and bike lanes are critical to our transportation network. I fought successfully to increase funding for the infrastructure that bikers and walkers count on and that will continue encouraging bikes and legs as mainstream ways to travel.

“Smaller cities in my district like Mountlake Terrace and Anacortes and those around the country often struggle competing for federal transportation dollars because they do not have the same resources as big cities like Chicago and New York. Streamlined access to a popular transportation loan program that I pushed for will help these midsized cities access the big-time funds they need. Midsized cities also have access to new funding for projects that will help move goods more efficiently.

“The transportation bill also includes a reauthorization of the job-creating Export-Import Bank. Thousands of workers in Northwest Washington and across the country have been counting on Congress to do the right thing and get the Bank back open for businesses. While Congress never should have allowed the bank to expire in the first place, action today to reopen the bank is a major victory for jobs.

“My top priority is creating jobs and investing in the foundation of long-term economic growth in the Pacific Northwest. We cannot have a big league economy with little league infrastructure. This long-term transportation bill will help our country make the right investments to keep our economy moving,” Larsen said.

A summary of the bill is available here. Information about highway funding levels is available here, and transit funding levels are available here.

Funding level

The final bill authorizes $305.1 billion over five years for surface transportation programs, including roads, bridges, ferries, rail and transit. Washington state will receive a total of $3.5 billion in highway funding and $1.2 billion in transit funding over the life of the bill, an increase over current funding of $437 million across the five-year lifespan of the bill.

Ferries

Ferries will receive increased funding nationwide, with Washington state receiving an additional $2 million yearly for ferry investment, for a total of $17.9 million annually.  Larsen pushed for more financial accountability for ferry boat funding, which could help the ferry system in Washington state. The bill includes Larsen’s language to rescind and redistribute money that ferry systems have not used within three years of the allocation. The bill also includes language that Larsen championed to prohibit private ferry systems from receiving public ferry funding.

Midsized Cities

Midsized cities often have trouble competing for federal transportation grants because they do not have the same resources as larger cities. Larsen had planned to make it easier for midsized cities to access the TIGER Grant program, but the bill does not reauthorize that program. To achieve a similar goal, Larsen successfully pushed to streamline access to a popular federal transportation loan program for smaller projects. Larsen’s amendment to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program was included in the final bill and will expedite applications for TIFIA loans that are less than $100 million, reducing administrative burdens for smaller cities and counties. Watch Larsen’s speech on the House floor here. The final bill also includes funds specifically for cities with fewer than 250,000 people to pay for freight improvements.

Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure

Larsen has led efforts to maintain funding for investments in infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians. The bill increases funding for sidewalks, bike lanes and trails from $819 million per year to $850 million by 2020.

Funding for Public Buses

Larsen worked with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03) to increase funding for bus and bus facilities in Washington state in the House version of the bill. The final bill includes a 75 percent increase over current levels in funding for buses and bus facilities, helping Community Transit and Whatcom Transit Authority maintain and purchase buses for their systems and improving reliability for bus commuters.

Bridges

Bridge safety has long been a priority for Larsen, and this bill makes funding more available for smaller bridges that are not part of the National Highway System.

Rail Safety

In response to constituents’ concerns about the safety of crude oil traveling by rail, Larsen has pressed for higher standards for these trains to keep communities safe. The bill requires improvements to the caps on older tank cars to reduce pressure and the potential for explosion in case of an accident. Larsen also has pushed to direct money to improving rail crossings. The bill creates new programs that could fund at-grade crossing improvements, including:

  • A formula program for states to improve at-grade crossings. The FY2016 Omnibus spending bill includes $350 million in funding.
  • Competitive and formula funding for nationally significant freight mobility projects, including at-grade crossings.
    • The competitive program starts at $800 billion in FY2016 and ramps up to $1 billion in FY2020. Projects eligible under this program are meant to be regionally significant and have costs of more than $100 million. However, up to 10 percent of funding can be used on smaller projects, including planning and design work, with a cost of more than $5 million. Additionally, 25 percent of funding is reserved for areas with a population of 200,000 people or less.
    • The formula program starts at $1.1 billion in FY2016 and will be distributed to all states.
  • A competitive grant program for rail infrastructure and safety improvements, including at-grade crossings. The FY2016 Omnibus directs $25 million to this program. 

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