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May 12, 2017

Omnibus FY 17 appropriations bill signed

On Friday, May 5, the President signed into law an appropriations package to fund the federal government through the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2017, which ends September 30, 2017.  The bill appropriates $1.1 trillion, providing the full level of funding available under the Budget Control Act, which identifies spending caps and sequestration procedures. 

In total, the bill appropriates approximately $71 billion for transportation and water infrastructure, including $44 billion for highway programs and $12 billion for transit programs.  It provides full obligation authority -- $54.4 billion -- from the Highway Trust Fund for surface transportation programs as authorized in the FAST Act.  Beginning in FY 17, the FAST Act authorizes annual increases of just over 2 percent through FY 20. 

The appropriations bill also continues to support key discretionary transportation programs, profiled below, providing a modest increase in funding levels from those enacted in previous years.  In addition, it provides the full $199 million in funding authorized by the FAST Act to assist commuter railroads in implementing positive train control.  Further, it provides $850 million for the Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) program, as authorized by the FAST Act.  FASTLANE is a competitive program designed to support major freight investments, including multimodal projects such as the CREATE program of rail improvements.

  • TIGER.  The bill appropriates $500 million to the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, consistent with the amount of funding provided the previous two years.  The Administration had proposed eliminating this program, which has supported Chicago-area projects including substantial funding for the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program of rail improvements, CTA Blue Line improvements, and the reconstruction of 147th Street in the south suburbs.
  • New Starts.  The bill provides $2.4 billion in Capital Investment Grants, commonly called "New Starts", for transit expansion projects across the country, including the first $100 million in funding to the CTA for Phase I of the Red/Purple Line Modernization project.  The CTA was awarded a $1 billion full funding grant agreement for the project by the Federal Transit Administration earlier this year.  The FY 17 funding level represents a more than 10 percent increase from FY 16 levels.
  • Amtrak.  The bill provides $1.5 billion in grants to Amtrak, a more than 7 percent increase from FY 16 levels.  A portion of this money could support continued improvements at Chicago's Union Station, Amtrak's busiest station outside the Northeast Corridor, acting as a hub for both long-distance and regional services.

The omnibus appropriations legislation includes an $857 million rescission in contract authority balances.  Congress will sometimes use rescissions to claw back unused balances of previously authorized transportation funds to offset spending for other programs.  This rescission will be applied proportionally to states' unobligated balances on May 31, 2017.  Rescissions could jeopardize cash flow for transportation agencies and limit the amount of funding available for critical programs like the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program and the Transportation Alternatives (TAP) Program, which in our region are programmed by CMAP and partners through a transparent, performance-based process.  CMAQ and TAP funds support a variety of projects -- including transit facilities, bicycle/pedestrian improvements, intersection improvements, and diesel-engine retrofits – to improve air quality and reduce congestion.  Planning and constructing transportation infrastructure can take years to complete, and state and local agencies rely on long-term, reliable access to federal funding to complete these projects.  Rescissions introduce an element of risk that complicates the programming process for state transportation departments and local governments.

Looking ahead

The Administration's full FY 18 budget proposal is due later this month, but an initial blueprint released in March would reduce spending from current levels, in particular reducing federal support for critical transportation, housing, economic development, and environmental programs. 

The overall direction of the FY 18 budget proposal is inconsistent with GO TO 2040, which supports innovative, future-oriented investments in infrastructure and human capital to support the region's long-term prosperity and quality of life.  As outlined in the agency's 2017 Federal Agenda, CMAP calls on federal policymakers to support initiatives and programs that acknowledge the interconnected nature of transportation, land use, and economic development issues, and to provide levels of funding commensurate with the necessary federal leadership in these areas. 

CMAP will continue to monitor the development of the federal FY 18 budget closely, to articulate the agency's policy positions to our Congressional delegation and other stakeholders, and outline potential impacts on the region's transportation, land use, housing, environment, and economic development goals.