With the ink barely dry on a new federal surface transportation law (FAST Act), the administration’s budget proposal could have stuck mostly to what Congress had already approved. Instead, President Obama chose to include a sweeping new transportation program in his final budget. With funding from a new $10 per barrel tax on oil, the budget would fund a “21st Century Clean Transportation Plan.”
The 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan would provide about $18 billion in FY 2017 for a variety of programs aimed at boosting clean energy, reducing carbon emissions, and enhancing resiliency of critical infrastructure. Among the new programs would be a new $1 billion 21st Century Regions grant program to support innovative regional transportation planning.
Other components include doubling TIGER grants; $1 billion in new Clean Communities grants to support transit oriented development, brownfields, and complete streets projects; $2 billion for multimodal freight mobility; $1.5 billion for resilience grants; and, additional funding for a variety of transit projects.
The initiative would mark a new approach in transportation investment and support the resiliency and sustainability agendas underway in many communities. Unfortunately, while notable as a potential policy platform for the future, the plan has no chance of passing muster with Congress given the reliance on funding from a new oil tax. Hill Republicans have decried the plan and even Democrats have been so far reluctant to embrace the idea in an election year.
The transportation budget also expands DOT’s work on new technologies. The proposal calls for $200 million in FY 2017 for new research and pilot deployments of autonomous vehicles, $60 million for research and regulatory activities related to advanced vehicle technology, and $400 million for “high impact investments” aimed at safely integrated new technologies into the surface transportation system.
Overall for highways, the budget calls for $51.5 billion with $7.5 billion of that total associated with the Clean Transportation initiative. Aside from the new oil tax-supported programs, the budget adheres to highway funding levels in the FAST Act.
- $11.4 billion for the Surface Transportation Block Grant program
- $2.4 billion for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program
- $1.1 billion for the National Highway Freight program
- $850 million for the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program
- $336 million for Metropolitan Transportation Planning
- $275 million for TIFIA
The budget request for the Federal Transit Administration is $19.9 billion with $6.4 billion of that total coming from the Clean Transportation initiative. $9.7 billion is provided for transit formula grants. If Clean Transportation funds were approved, the formula grants would increase by an additional $5.9 billion.
The budget calls for $3.5 billion in New and Small Starts capital investment grants. That is a significant increase over the $2.1 billion provided in FY 2016. The expanded funding would also be supported by the new oil fee.
About the Author
Jason Jordan is APA's Director of Policy and Government Affairs.
Image: Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant Program helps build subways, light rail, streetcars, and bus rapid transit lines. Photo of bus rapid transit in Cleveland courtesyU.S. Department of Transportation.