May 18, 2024

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Buttigieg highlights transportation priorities, projects in House testimony

3 min read
Buttigieg highlights transportation priorities, projects in House testimony

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg outlined for House lawmakers Tuesday the administration’s priorities heading into the new fiscal year, ranging from shoring up infrastructure to prevent collapses like the Francis Scott Key Bridge to supporting “massive and forward-thinking” projects like high-speed rail and a bulging pipeline of large transit projects.

Buttigieg appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development to detail President Biden’s fiscal 2025 transportation request. The $146 billion spending proposal includes $25.5 billion in discretionary budget authority, $81 billion from the Highway Trust Fund and just under $37 billion of advance appropriations from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is nearing the halfway point of its five-year authorization.

More than $72 billion would go to roads and bridges, $27 billion to the Federal Aviation Administration and nearly $17 billion for rail, Buttigieg told lawmakers. In his opening remarks, Buttigieg singled out the Brightline West high-speed project, which broke ground last week, calling it “a celebration of the idea that America can still build massive, forward-thinking engineering marvels that make people’s lives better.”

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., is the new chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation Housing and Development.

Bloomberg

Under later questioning from Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., about California’s struggling publicly funded high-speed rail project, Buttigieg noted the difference between the two projects’ right-of-way access.

The administration “believes in, is investing in” the California train, “but recognize it as a much more complex right-of-way picture” which puts “it on a longer timeline than the Brightline West project,” he said.

Tuesday’s hearing marked the first for new subcommittee chair Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., who took the helm from Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who became chair of the full committee in early April.

“This committee has potentially the most direct impact on each Congressional district in the United States,” said Womack, who, like Buttigieg, served as a mayor before heading to Capitol Hill.

Womack noted that the IIJA provides $184 billion in advance appropriations through 2026 that “are under the jurisdiction of this committee.”

“We will continue to subject the IIJA appropriations to strong oversight as we develop the fiscal 2025 bill,” he said, and “ensure our states and localities are getting the most bang for their buck from these federal infusions.”

Womack also said he would focus on ensuring that smaller and rural communities are able to successfully compete for a piece of the IIJA’s discretionary grants, a concern that other lawmakers raised throughout the hearing. Buttigieg told lawmakers that the DOT is working to simplify funding notices and applications to support smaller cities and towns who need funding.

Womack pressed Buttigieg on the administration’s funding requests for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program. The pipeline of projects features $20 billion of federal commitments over the next 10 years, he said, warning it “might create a check we can’t cash.”

Buttigieg agreed there is a “long list of projects that have met the statutory criteria to get the full funding agreements.” The administration’s funding request for transit projects in 2025 totals $2.5 billion on top of $1.6 billion from the IIJA.

“We do have enough currently to meet these commitments but the impacts of budget cuts could force us to make payments over a longer period of time which as you know can increase the time-related costs of projects,” he said. “If the FTA is to run up against the funding cap during later years of reauthorization, FTA would have to delay signing any new funding agreements. It’s fair to say that with each passing year those projects would get more expensive.”

The collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge came up several times throughout the hearing, and Buttigieg said that the administration views the $60 million of emergency federal funds it has released so far as “a down payment of what we know will be the substantial cost of rebuilding the bridge.”

Buttigieg will testify on the president’s budget request Thursday at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing.