Updated November 8, 2021 - TRA Newswire -
Now that the House and Senate have passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure and jobs bill that will be spread out over eight years. The paperwork now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature. Transportation takes a fair share chunk of the funding with Texas expected to realize a positive economic impact of $5.37 billion for highways and bridges and $1.33 billion for transit projects. Those numbers come from a study commissioned by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.
Of the $1.2 trillion Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act, $550 billion is earmarked for transportation projects for roads, bridges, airports, rail, mass transit and other areas.
According to the bill text $66 billion will be set aside for passenger and freight rail projects. About half of those funds would eliminate Amtrak's substantial maintenance backlog in the Northeast Corridor and expand rail service to areas outside the Northeast/mid-Atlantic region. Amtrak has already targeted three Texas corridors for passenger rail expansion in its 2035 Vision Plan but details are still lacking.
“Passenger rail offers the transportation solutions this country needs, and Amtrak is ready to make it happen,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement. “This bill will allow Amtrak to advance significant infrastructure and major station projects on the [Northeast Corridor], purchase new passenger rail equipment and develop new rail corridors, bringing passenger rail to more people across the nation. As demonstrated by their commitment to rail in this bill, the Administration and Congress believe in the future of rail and Amtrak and we will move quickly to advance these projects.”
Texas could also be the beneficiary of transportation funding in these areas:
$3 billion allocated for states to eliminate dangerous at-grade rail crossings
$10 billion for a new program that would bring more transit services to low-income communities
$10 billion for a high-speed passenger rail program
$1.3 billion over five years to improve public transportation options
$39 billion will modernize public transit
$11 billion for transportation safety includes programs to reduce fatalities among pedestrians and cyclists
Large sums of transportation funds will be distributed through competitive grant programs which leaves Texas without the proverbial dog-in-the-hunt for rail projects. "Texas has a dormant fund called the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund", according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "Unfortunately no money has been allocated since voters approved the RRIF in 2009. We've missed out on at least a billion dollars for freight and passenger rail projects in Texas over the last decade because we don't have a state dollar to match a federal dollar on competitive grants."
Louisiana officials are already eyeing money from the infrastructure bill to help speed up plans for a long-studied passenger rail route between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Much of transportation funds in the infrastructure bill will flow through existing USDOT highway programs where states get money according to federal formulas and have discretion over how to use those funds.
“The infrastructure bill will rebuild and replace infrastructure that is decades, or even a century, old. It will promote safety, help us combat the climate crisis, and advance equitable access to transportation,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “Now, we begin the work of building infrastructure that will support the traveling public and ensure an economically competitive America for generations to come.”
Association of American Railroads President Ian Jefferies said "our nation will make the significant, long-overdue investments we need to modernize our public infrastructure, enhance safety and support future economic growth.”
Jim Mathews, President/CEO of DC-based Rail Passengers Association was pleased with the bill. "Rail Passengers Association applauds the work Congress put into the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which marks a new era for America’s passenger rail network. This funding will modernize vast stretches of the existing U.S. passenger rail network, undoing decades of disinvestment."The bill marks the largest federal investment in passenger rail service since Amtrak was founded 50 years ago.
Mathews went on to say that "Amtrak passengers will see newly refurbished train interiors and brand new trainsets; expanded and upgraded train stations and platforms; additional frequencies that offer more convenient travel options and connections; and new energy-efficient locomotives. Passengers will also benefit from the less glamorous upgrades to our aging rail infrastructure that will eliminate delays, add capacity and reduce trip-times: new bridges, rebuilt tunnels, upgraded signals, additional sidings, crossovers and double-tracking. These upgrades will touch every part of the existing system—and, we hope, lay the foundation for dozens of new corridors across the U.S."
Joy Esparsen is Deputy Executive Director of New Mexico Counties Association. In a recent post she said "from the perspective of counties, the infrastructure bill would also give $845 million for improvements where roads intersect with railroad crossings and another $5.5 billion for infrastructure grant programs. Freight railroads and counties have partnered on rail safety, both advocating for this expanded funding."
Esparsen also said "with U.S. freight demand expected to rise 30 percent by 2040, railroads will be even more important to our economic future. Especially in this moment, rail is a tool that could address multiple national goals from climate change to economic recovery. It will get people back to work, bring growth to our communities, and help build more resilient and sustainable transportation systems."
Sean Jeans-Gail is Vice President for the Rail Passengers Association. “I think a lot of what we’re going to fund [in passenger rail] is environmental review, route analysis, coming up with a national concrete plan and doing design work and start constructing the corridors. And there needs to be that next package to bring home a lot of that planning work, a lot of that environmental work, a lot of that design work, ” according to Jeans-Gail.
While port infrastructure grants were cut from $2.5 billion to $600 million in the last round of compromised changes it could still be beneficial for railroads that want to develop direct ship to rail offload capabilities at ports. As the country grapples with a supply chain crisis that has clogged the nation’s ports, rail could help with future movements and cut the time containers languish on port docks.