Larsen: Job-Creating Transportation Bill Includes PNW Priorities

Larsen successfully pushed for language that helps Washington state ferries, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, public buses.

Larsen’s provision to help midsized cities access federal transportation resources also included.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, today voted for and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a long-term surface transportation bill that includes language Larsen pushed for to invest in ferries and infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians, as well as to help midsized cities access federal transportation resources. The bill includes three years of funding for surface transportation, the longest transportation authorization the House has passed in a decade.

The House and Senate will now work out their differences on their respective versions of the bill, H.R. 22, the DRIVE Act. Larsen will be a member of the conference committee.

“In Washington state, transportation means jobs. Investing in our roads, bridges, highways and transit systems puts people to work and keeps our economy moving. This long-term transportation bill will help ensure our cities, counties and states can count on the transportation funding they need to repair and upgrade their transportation infrastructure. While I am disappointed the bill does not make a bigger investment overall, I pushed to make sure this long-term bill includes support for Washington state’s transportation priorities. Going forward, I believe a reasonable increase in the gas tax, along with the study and development of a consensus vehicle miles traveled fee can fix our transportation funding crisis.

“When I talk with transportation stakeholders in Washington state, I hear about the issues they are facing every day. Ferries are a lifeline in our state, not a luxury. Ferries are an extension of our highway system, and Washington state has the largest public ferry system in the country. Thousands of people use ferries every day to get to work, school and medical appointments. The bill includes my language that improves the financial accountability of ferry systems, which will help our ferry system in Washington state. We should be spending taxpayer dollars wisely and in a timely fashion. In conference, I will push to ensure public ferry dollars stay with public ferry systems.

“I have heard from midsized cities in my district that they often struggle competing for federal transportation dollars because they do not have the same resources as big cities like Chicago and New York. I have long pushed to help medium-sized cities land the big-time funds they need to repair and build up their roads. I worked successfully to include language in this bill that will streamline the application process for the popular TIFIA loan program for smaller transportation projects. Midsized cities should not be scared off from this critical funding because of high administrative hurdles.

“Sidewalks, trails and bike lanes are critical to our transportation network. Less than 2 percent of federal transportation funding goes to the Transportation Alternatives Program, which funds bike and pedestrian projects. But communities leverage these small funds to get big results. I fought successfully to maintain funding for this program in the bill, and I will keep pushing for strong bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

“The transportation bill also includes a reauthorization of the job-creating Export-Import Bank. I voted against amendments that would have hurt the Bank’s reauthorization chances. I am pleased the House maintained the integrity of the Export-Import Bank renewal that we already passed, so we can get the Bank back open for business as soon as possible.

“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.

Funding level: One problem with the bill is that it does not include enough sources of funding to fully pay for itself. While the bill authorizes $325 billion in spending on important surface transportation programs over six years, the only concrete funding source for it is the gas tax. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the gas tax will bring in about $240 billion between 2016 and 2022, leaving a gap that still needs to be fixed.

Ferries: Larsen pushed for more financial accountability for ferry boat funding, which could help the ferry system in Washington state. The bill included Larsen’s language to rescind and redistribute money that ferry systems have not used within three years of the allocation.

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 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.

Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure: Larsen has led efforts to maintain funding for a popular program that supports community investments in infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians. The bill sustains the Transportation Alternatives Program, which communities use for sidewalks, bike lanes and trails.

Funding for Public Buses: Larsen worked with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03) to increase funding for bus and bus facilities in Washington state by redistributing funding from an earmarked program that only seven East Coast states currently enjoy. The amendment makes funding available to bus programs throughout the country, helping Community Transit and Whatcom Transit Authority maintain and purchase buses for their systems and potentially 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, where rail incidents are most likely to occur and where rail lines have the highest impact on car traffic. 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.