In this issue:
The Trade Corridor Bulletin
Volume 14 – No. 6 | September 2020
FAST Act Extension & FY20 Continuing Resolution Await Senate Action Ahead of September 30 Deadline
By: CAGTC Staff
This year, two important deadlines will coincide on September 30: the end of the 2020 fiscal year and the expiration of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. To keep the government running and ensure state departments of transportation and other agencies receive necessary federal funding, Congressional action is needed by that deadline. Despite progress advancing both a 12-month appropriations package and two multi-year surface transportation authorization proposals, lawmakers recognized they would be unable to finalize legislation before September 30. Instead, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation incorporating short-term appropriations and an extension of the FAST Act.
On September 23, the House passed its continuing resolution (CR) providing funding for federal agencies at fiscal year 2020 (FY20) levels through December 11, 2020. In addition to preventing a government-wide shutdown, the package also included a one-year extension of the FAST Act. This will allow the current Congress additional time to pass a full-year appropriations law after the November elections. The next Congress, seated in January 2021, will likely be responsible for developing a long-term surface transportation reauthorization.
House Democrats passed their $494 billion reauthorization bill in July 2020, though Republicans criticized the legislation’s environmental focus and lack of bipartisan coordination. The package also fell short on funding, a recurring stumbling block in recent reauthorization cycles. On the Senate side, there has been little momentum since the Environment and Public Works Committee approved America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act in July 2019. The Senate bill still required funding and titles by the other committees with jurisdiction over surface transportation. The extension would provide state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations and transit agencies with funding certainty and allow critical infrastructure projects to move forward uninterrupted for another year. If passed, the length of the extension alleviates pressure to pass a law at the height of campaign season or in the lame duck, meaning that the 116th Congress’ work on this topic will be wiped clean when the 117th Congress gavels in on January 3, 2021.
The extension bill would renew FY20 funding levels provided under the FAST Act for federal surface transportation programs through September 30, 2021. To account for declining Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenues, the bill transfers $10.4 billion from the U.S. Treasury general fund into the highway account of the HTF and $3.2 billion to the mass transit account. The FAST Act’s federal grant programs would receive a continuation of funding at FY20 levels. In the instance of the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, lawmakers added $100 million to the $500 million aggregate cap on multimodal investment (with roughly $46 million remaining from years FY16-FY20, $146 million would be available in the next round of INFRA for multimodal investments).
It is not unusual for Congress to miss the deadline for annual funding bills and pass a stopgap measure to keep the government open: a CR has been passed every year since 1998. With few exceptions, the CR will maintain FY20 funding levels for federal agencies through December. Changes to FY20 funding levels are aimed at reducing the economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as an additional $8 billion for nutrition assistance programs. Following last-minute negotiations with the White House, House lawmakers included funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation with the caveat that it could not be used to pay fossil fuel importers and refiners.
The CR and FAST Act extension package passed the House Floor with bipartisan support by a 359-57 vote on September 23. The Senate is expected to pass the measure on September 29 or 30. The bill, H.R. 8337, will then proceed to President Trump’s desk for final approval.
Presidential Candidates Pursue Infrastructure Investment to Jumpstart U.S. Economy
By: CAGTC Staff
Ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are felt across the globe and close to home, heightening urgency on the campaign trail for a roadmap to recovery. Both candidates Trump and Biden have incorporated infrastructure investments into their policy platforms as part of their strategy to promote economic growth and revitalize our nation’s transportation system.
The former Vice President’s “Build Back Better” platform focuses on rebuilding America’s aging infrastructure through strategic, clean energy investments. Within his first term, Biden proposes a $2 trillion investment to rebuild America’s deteriorating infrastructure and create millions of jobs. His transportation plan establishes an ambitious set of standards for the conversion to zero-emissions light and medium duty vehicles with an overarching goal to achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050. He plans to support these standards through a combination of public investments and consumer rebates for American-made clean vehicles. Biden’s nickname “Amtrak Joe” is also played up in his infrastructure program with the goal of starting the “second great railroad revolution.” According to details released by his campaign, Vice President Biden plans to execute this initiative by utilizing existing USDOT federal grant and loan programs. Additionally, he will work with Amtrak and private freight rail companies to transition to electrified rail systems and reduce diesel fuel emissions.
Biden continues to underscore the importance of an increased federal role in infrastructure funding on the campaign trail, referring to his $2 trillion plan as “the largest mobilization of public investment” in over 75 years. In recent speeches, the former Vice President discusses how the nation’s acceleration toward a clean energy economy would help to jumpstart the U.S. recovery in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Vice President Biden’s policy platform also calls for mandating zero-emission buses, which his plan states will in turn spur an increase in U.S. bus manufacturing. His plan also suggests investment in electric charging stations in order to support deployment of electric vehicles.
President Donald Trump’s second-term agenda includes goals such as modernizing our nation’s infrastructure system and promoting regional connectivity. According to the “Fighting for You!” campaign, Trump’s infrastructure program will combine “outcome- driven planning efforts” and capital improvements to upgrade vital assets across the country. His proposal emphasizes providing states the flexibility to make infrastructure investments based on their individual needs by directly allocating funds to governors.
Off the campaign trail, some of President Trump’s transportation policies are reflected in recent administrative actions and budget requests, such as increasing investment in rural infrastructure. The Trump Administration has also released policy statements in response to legislation, such as a formal threat to veto the Moving Forward Act, the House Democrat’s proposed surface transportation reauthorization bill, which stated the bill was “heavily biased against rural America,” and invested too heavily in transit programs.
It is likely that President Trump would continue his emphasis on shortening project delivery timelines, which was a hallmark of his first term. In July, the Council on Environment Quality (CEQ) released a final rule that, among other things, codified President Trump’s One Federal Decision policy requiring increased collaboration between federal agencies to process environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects. In June, the President issued Executive Order (EO) “Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery from the COVID-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities,” directing all federal agencies to expedite infrastructure projects as an economic stimulus tactic. This also created NEPA emergency regulations and procedures to provide additional flexibility to agencies currently completing the review process.
USDOT Publishes National Freight Strategic Plan
By: CAGTC Staff
On September 3, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) published its 118-page National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP), which was required by 2015’s surface transportation authorization, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). In a recorded video message, USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao and the agency’s modal administrators spoke about the plan and the freight network’s link to our economy.
Per USDOT’s press statement, “Every day, America’s transportation network moves more than 51 million tons of freight and energy products valued at nearly $52 billion via highways, railways, ports and inland waterways, pipelines, and airports. The growth in freight demand due to increasing use of e-commerce and global supply chains in recent years has strained our freight system, and could threaten the competitive advantage of American businesses. As these supply chains continue to spread across the world, America’s ability to compete could be limited by inadequate infrastructure and a lack of preparation for incorporating innovative technologies.”
Through the FAST Act, Congress tasked USDOT with developing a plan that explored emerging trends, included an asset inventory, and identified system chokepoints. Recognizing that, on the whole, available infrastructure funding has declined relative to inflation, the NFSP noted freight projects “face special challenges when competing for funding from that limited pool of resources.” This problem is compounded by the diffused benefits yielded by system improvements. Per the NFSP, “Freight projects often have benefits that extend across regions or even the entire Nation, but their negative impacts, including traffic congestion, noise, and emissions, can be highly localized, creating challenges with multijurisdictional coordination.” Accordingly, the NFSP identifies funding targeted improvements in freight capacity as a strategic objective.
The FAST Act mandated several elements be included in the NFSP, such as the National Multimodal Freight Network (NMFN). The NMFN should guide planning and sustained investment for goods movement. While the plan assesses certain aspects and performance levels of the NMFN, USDOT announced it will release the final designation of the network later this year.
Transportation professionals have always been aware of our nation’s dependence on the multimodal freight network, but the COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on it for most Americans when they were unable to find toilet paper in their local stores. As the NFSP points out, the disruptive nature of the pandemic has been a lesson in the importance of supply chain resilience. Between supply and workforce “shocks,” companies have examined their supply chains and we’re likely to see continued shifts in manufacturing, materials sourcing and other elements that will shift where and how goods move.
The FAST Act requires USDOT update the NFSP every five years, meaning an update to this plan is required by September of 2025.
Read the full plan here.
Secretary Chao Announces $1 Billion to Upgrade American Infrastructure
U.S. Secretary Elaine L. Chao on September 16 announced that the Trump Administration will invest $1 billion in American infrastructure through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grants program. The funding has been awarded to 70 projects in 44 states.
“This Administration is making significant investments in infrastructure, and this $1 billion in BUILD grants will repair, rebuild, and revitalize transportation systems across America,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
Fiscal Year 2020 BUILD Transportation grants are for planning and capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure and were awarded on a competitive basis for projects that will have a significant local or regional impact. BUILD funding supports roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports or intermodal transportation. Since 2017, the Administration has awarded nearly $4 billion in BUILD grants to improve America’s infrastructure.
The program selection criteria encompassed safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, state of good repair, environmental sustainability, innovation, and partnerships with a broad range of stakeholders.
Read the full release here.
NRC's Ashley Wieland Honored as Progressive Railroad Rising Star
Progressive Railroading has announced that NRC President Ashley Wieland is among 25 professionals selected as 2020 Rising Stars of the North American railroad industry.
Progressive Railroading defines a Rising Star as someone under the age of 40 who has made, or is making, a positive impact on his or her company, organization, department or team, and is viewed by others — peers, colleagues, supervisors, clients or associates — as an up-and-coming leader in the rail industry.
The award winners were chosen based on their contributions to the railroad industry, career achievements, demonstrated leadership, professional association activity or community involvement.
Ashley and other Rising Stars were honored in a virtual event on Thursday, July 30, 2020. All of their stories are profiled on ProgressiveRailroading.com and will be featured in the magazine's September 2020 issue.
Read the full release here.
SCAG Report Shows Significant Drop in Travel During Early Months of COVID-19: Troubling Patterns Emerge As Economy Reopens
One of the nation’s most congested metropolitan areas has seen a significant decline in vehicle traffic, transit use and air travel since the start of the COVID‐19 pandemic, according to the first comprehensive analysis of the coronavirus’ impact on planes, trains and automobiles in Southern California.
The study, conducted by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), analyzed roadway, rail and air traffic in the six‐county region during the early months of the pandemic. SCAG will continue to monitor and report on these trends over the coming months as the economy reopens and the region shows signs of recovery.
“We don’t know what the long‐term impact of the pandemic will be, but the combination of fast‐rising VMT and continued declines in transit ridership suggests that congestion and problems associated with it could return with a vengeance once the economy fully reopens. The land use and transportation strategies of Connect SoCal are now more important than ever before, and we should take the opportunities we have at this time to ensure that, as our economy recovers, our transportation system is there to support our residents, our workers and our businesses,” said Kome Ajise, SCAG’s Executive Director.
Read the full release here.
FDOT Projects Receive Recognition from America's Transportation Awards
On August 19, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) received two regional awards for the S.R. 82 Widening Project and SunTrax Phase 1 from the Southern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO) as part of the annual America’s Transportation
“This recognition further highlights the department’s continued commitment to providing the safest and most innovative transportation system for Florida’s residents and visitors,” said Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin J. Thibault, P.E. “The Florida Department of Transportation is honored to receive these prestigious awards.”
The America’s Transportation Awards competition is sponsored by the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In the Southern region, Florida and six other states nominated a total of 17 projects in this year’s competition. Projects could be submitted in three categories: Community Development/Quality of Life, Best Use of Technology and Operations Excellence. Each project was also categorized into groups based on budget size: small (less than $25 million), medium ($25 million to $200 million), and large (more than $200 million).
Read the full release here.
Focused on the Future: the 2020-2024 Five-Year Florida Seaport Mission Plan
Florida Ports Council
Just before the worldwide pandemic hit Florida’s economy, Florida seaports showed steady trade from 2018 to 2019. Florida’s total waterborne trade for 2019 was valued at $86.6 billion, with top trading partners including China, Japan, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Mexico. Additionally, cruising increased 8.7 percent over the year, with a total of 18.3 million passenger movements.
The 2020-2024 Five-Year Seaport Mission Plan, completed annually as part of the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council’s (FSTED) mission, provides a snapshot of ports’ economic impact along with goals for the next five years.
The new report applauds the state of Florida’s investment in seaports through FSTED, which was created by the Legislature 30 years ago, and also acknowledges the difficulties of estimating the impact of COVID-19 on trade and cruising in 2020 and beyond.
Read the full report here.
Failure to Act: Current Investment Trends in our Surface Transportation Infrastructure
American Society of Civil Engineers
ASCE released new data in September 2020 showing that deficiencies in our nation's transit systems, roads, and bridges have cascading impacts on the national economy. These preliminary findings state that if industry costs are passed onto customers, costs per household could be as high as $12,500 over 20 years, or $625 dollars per year.
We are facing a funding gap of about $2.1 trillion between 2020 and 2039 with our current spending levels.
Collectively, professional services, manufacturing and health care sectors are expected to lose more than 540,000 jobs by 2040. The findings estimate a current backlog of $176 billion for transit investments, and that is expected to grow to nearly $500 billion through 2039 as existing assets age and if transit capital investment is maintained at the current real level of funding.
Should investment in our nation’s highways, bridges, and public transportation systems continue at current trend levels of capital spending, households and businesses will incur nearly $2 trillion dollars in extra costs cumulatively over the 20-year timeframe of this study.
Read the full report here.