President Trump on Friday signed the $1.3-trillion omnibus spending bill, keeping the government running through September and freeing up federal funding for Amtrak and the Gateway project he had opposed.
As much as $541 million is available for Gateway, which would construct a new tunnel underneath the Hudson River linking New Jersey and New York, and replace the century-old Portal Bridge on the Northeast Corridor leading to Manhattan.
Approval for the funds would circumvent opposition from the Department of Transportation; Seceretary Elaine Chao had wanted New York and New Jersey to finance most of the massive project.
According to reports, Amtrak is expected to contribute a minimum of $388 million to Gateway though its Northeast Corridor Account, while New York and New Jersey will receive an additional $153 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s High-Density States and State of Good Repair grant programs.
While negotiations are ongoing, Gateway will likely receive 60% of the original federal dollars intended for it within omnibus. Trump had threatened to veto the spending bill if it included funds for Gateway, among other reasons.
Although DOT reviews Amtrak’s operations, reports said it will have limited ability to withhold $650 million for the Northeast Corridor Account under the omnibus, for projects throughout the region.
At the same time, Gateway can compete for additional money through the New Starts Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program, which is slated to receive $2.645 billion.
Gateway has two pending applications for the grants, to replace the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in northern New Jersey, and for the Hudson Tunnel project.
USDOT will have $27.3 billion in discretionary appropriations for FY18, but the House Appropriations Committee says that in total budgetary resources, including offsetting collections, the bill provides $86.2 billion to improve and maintain transportation infrastructure.
The popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program will get a $1 billion boost over FY17 levels with $1.5 billion available. Language in the bill ensures that at least 30 percent of these grants will go to rural communities.
Federal investments in rail infrastructure and safety programs are funded at $3.1 billion. Amtrak is provided with $1.9 billion, which includes $650 million for Northeast Corridor (NEC) grants and $1.3 billion to support the national intercity network. Also included is funding for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants at $250 million to address critical rail investments nationwide and on the NEC. Rail safety and research programs are funded at $287 million to fund inspectors and training, plus maintenance and safety investments to the physical rail infrastructure.
Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grants are funded at $593 million to fund capital and safety improvements, planning, environmental work and research. There is also $250 million included for grants available to rail operators in install Positive Train Control.
The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program receives a $25 million allocation for the first time and $350,000 has been allotted to help short line and regional railroads apply and take advantage of the program.
The Federal Transit Administration is provided with $13.5 billion in total budgetary resources, which include $9.7 billion “to help local communities build, maintain, and ensure the safety of their mass transit systems.” Within the $9.7 billion is $2.6 billion for Capital Investment Grants transit projects. “New Starts” projects are funded at $1.5 billion, Core Capacity projects at $716 million and Small Starts projects at $400 million.
– with reporting by Mischa Wanek-Libman, Editor, Railway Track & Structures