It’s Infrastructure Week in D.C., and transportation groups from all over the nation are turning a spotlight on infrastructure to educate and advocate for a simple message: it’s time to get to work on rebuilding America. Infrastructure Week is an opportunity to bring businesses, workers, elected leaders, and everyday citizens together to think about the best way to improve the rails, roads, bridges, ports, and airports that will ensure that America will be globally competitive, prosperous, and safe in the 21st Century.
NARP staff is working hard to make sure the voice of passengers is represented at each event. On Monday, we attended the kickoff event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao gave an address, promising that the Trump Administration will provide details for a “vision” for an infrastructure bill “in the next several weeks,” with a legislative package heading to Congress sometime in the third quarter.
Other groups responded by arguing the time for action is now, and pushed for something more substantive than a vision.
“My question to the White House and Congress is this: Where is the bill?” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, at the same event. “It’s ‘go’ time. Bring legislation to the floor, and the labor movement will help you pass it.’’
The Senate, for its part, is looking to utilize its experience in successfully drafting the FAST Act—a multiyear surface transportation bill that ramped up investment in roads, rail, and transit—to take the lead on an infrastructure bill.
“Because of our experience in the FAST Act, I would rather get something really specific in the Senate because it turned out that that’s what we did anyway,” said Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Senator Inhofe expected Secretary Chao to present concrete details to his committee in a hearing held today: “[E]nough time has gone by that she can speak to some specifics as to what projects are going to be pursued, what type of projects,"
However, Secretary Chao largely avoided laying out specifics, saying details would be released in a fleshed out White House budget for Fiscal year 2018, tentatively scheduled to be released next week.
“I don’t know what’s in the budget,” Chao said at the hearing, adding that any cuts to transportation in the budget would hopefully be reinserted in an infrastructure bill. “But I will not know that until May 23rd, when it’s released.”
On the positive side, the secretary acknowledged the importantance of investing in the aging rail infrastructure on the Northeast Corridor, specifically highlighting the new Hudson River tunnels.
"Please be assured that Gateway is an absolute priority in terms of our focus," Chao told Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. “I’ve been delayed as well.”
Unfortunately, she also cast doubt on the future of TIGER grants, an intermodal transportation program that benefits rail and transit and is popular on both sides of the aisle.
“I know how popular TIGER grants are with members of Congress. This is a first budget done by a new administration,” Chao said. “[It’s] something we are discussing. The thought was that there’d be, going forward, that there’d be a more holistic approach to infrastructure. And perhaps these TIGER grants would be recast… in some way in the future. That’s what we’re still talking about.”
NARP was also on hand on Tuesday to hear how mayors are finding solutions for the critical challenges facing cities and states around the country, with participation from Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, Connecticut Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. You can listen to an audio recording of the conversation online at Bloomberg, which hosted the event.
About the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP)
NARP is the only national organization speaking for the nearly 40 million users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by more than 28,000 individual members nationwide.