by Mark Vieth, Senior Vice President
Facing huge unmet infrastructure needs across all modes of transportation, President Obama used the occasion of his fiscal year 2015 budget proposal to Congress to roll out his blueprint for reauthorizing surface transportation programs, also known as “MAP-21”.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the president proposes $90.9 billion for Transportation Department programs, a 25.7 percent increase over fiscal year 2014 levels. His reauthorization plan, which covers fiscal years 2015-2018, includes a total of $302 billion for all modes of surface transportation, including highways, transit, and freight. This represents an increase of $87 billion over the existing authorized levels. Highlights of his 4-year initiative include:
- $10 billion for a freight and goods movement initiative
- $2.2 billion for bus rapid transit
- $5 billion for TIGER grants
- $400 million for workforce development
These new investments will not be possible without addressing the projected 6-year, $100 billion shortfall of revenues to the transportation trust funds. The budget proposes to consolidate all transportation trust funds under one umbrella, and shore up the fund with $150 billion from "transition revenue generated from pro-growth tax reform to supplement current revenues from the gas tax."
Regardless of whether Congress will enact MAP-21 reauthorization this year, lawmakers will have to deal with the FY15 DOT budget through the annual Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill. For fiscal year 2015, the budget proposes $1 billion in dedicated funding for freight, $4.9 billion for structurally deficient bridges and $865 million for research, technology and education (including $82 million for the University Transportation Center program). For transit programs, the budget proposes a significant increase to $60 billion, including $500 million for a new Fixing and Accelerating Surface Transportation (FAST) program.
MAP-21 programs are set to expire at the end of September, and few experts predict that Congress will pass a comprehensive authorization bill this year. More likely, programs will be extended another year. As a result, it is unlikely that Congress will make any dramatic changes, given the tight spending limits imposed on discretionary programs in fiscal year 2015. Transportation advocates hope that Congress this year can at least make a “down payment” on new investments to at least begin addressing our huge national infrastructure needs.