Congressional action consistent with advocacy
By Kevin E. Foley
The recently passed five-year, $305 billion congressional budget for national transportation and infrastructure upgrades represents a legislative victory for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST), which obtained increasingly rare bipartisan support, essentially reauthorizes funds for a wide-swath of highway, bridge, transportation safety and public-transit projects across the country over a sustained period rather than having an annual congressional argument over funding levels.
The legislation is expected to bring $16.5 billion in funding to New York state over the next five years, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer, who leveraged his seniority to boost funding for mass transit and road projects, especially in New York City.
Notably, Congress did not raise the federal gasoline tax, a traditional source of highway funding, to fund the FAST legislation.
Maloney, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has made advocacy of rail safety and bridge and road upgrades a hallmark of his three-year tenure in office. His 18th District, which includes Philipstown and Beacon, covers a broad area of the Hudson Valley on both sides of the river. Crisscrossed with highways and bridges, the district is served by Metro-North and Amtrak as well as a major freight line on the west side of the river.
Bipartisan approaches to legislation and closer cooperation between government agencies and the private sector are also themes Maloney has stressed consistently.
“Since day one, I’ve worked across the aisle with local, state, and federal officials to make critical investments in infrastructure to strengthen our communities, grow our economy and create jobs,” he said in a statement. “I’m proud that this bill continues our record of delivering results, particularly the provisions I authored to help make life better for my neighbors in the Hudson Valley.”
Among the legislation Maloney successfully inserted into the final bill are:
- The Public-Private Partnership Infrastructure Investment Act, which aims to make it easier for private entities to work with transportation agencies on project planning, execution and financing.
- The Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act, which creates $50 million in funding to make track crossings safer with better signals and other features.
- The Passenger Train Derailment Prevention Act, intended to require train systems to upgrade technology and roadbeds and reduce speeds to lessen the impact of sharp turns on safety.
- The Safe Bridges Investment Act, which broadened the definition of bridges eligible for federal funding.
The Safe Bridges provision in particular could have significant impact locally and in New York state. The bill makes funding available for county- and municipal-owned bridges, so-called “off-system” bridges previously excluded from access to federal funds. Describing them as bridges “families in the Hudson Valley use every single day to get to school and work,” Maloney said they had been “forgotten far too long.”
While the agreement to fund projects over a five-year period helps significantly with planning, it is only the beginning of a complex process of identifying, designing, bidding and approving thousands of projects. Applying for and receiving authorization for a project and starting construction can sometimes take years. Many local projects have to filter through the state government as coordinated by the state Department of Transportation with guidance from the governor and legislature. The state also has its own funded projects.