Federal Aid Flowing to Transportation Infrastructure Projects, Including NY-NJ Gateway Program

Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg and White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu on March 24 announced $2.9 billion in combined funding under a new infrastructure grant program. The new “Multimodal Projects Discretionary Grant” will allow all communities pursuing major transportation infrastructure projects to submit one application for three major DOT funding sources. (DOT Twitter, March 23) 

Surface Transportation Funding Expansion 

  • DOT funds under the new program will be awarded on a competitive basis for surface transportation infrastructure projects that have significant national or regional impact, according to DOT’s March 22 Notice of  Funding Opportunity. (Transport Topics, March 24)
  • Secretary Buttigieg said he expects to announce winners by the fall after receiving final applications by May 23. (Washington Post, March 23 and DOT Notice of  Funding Opportunity)
  • Last November, the enactment of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) includes more than $350 billion over five fiscal years for surface transportation programs. (DOT news release, Jan. 14)
  • White House Infrastructure Chief Landrieu said about half of the IIJA’s $1.2 trillion will flow through the DOT during a presentation earlier this month at a Bipartisan Policy Center virtual forum. (Engineering News-Record, March 9)
  • This week, an additional $105 billion for the DOT was included in President Biden’s FY2023 budget request (see story above). The combined funding sources are expected to expand DOT’s discretionary grant programs for large, complex infrastructure projects that may involve more than one state. (DOT FY23 Budget Highlights document

Gateway Project & IIJA 

Gateway Hudson Tunnel Project

  • A March 28 announcement by DOT Secretary Buttigieg stated that the Administration’s budget recommends $4.45 billion to advance 15 major transit projects in FY2023. “This includes, for the first time, $100 million in recommended funding for the Hudson Tunnel commuter rail project, which is part of the Gateway Program, a series of strategic rail infrastructure investments along the Northeast Corridor.” (Railway Age, March 29 and The Center Square, March 30)
  • The Roundtable has long supported federal transportation infrastructure investments to spur economic growth, support local communities and enhance America’s competitiveness. (Roundtable Weekly, Nov. 12, 2021)
  • The Roundtable’s 2022 Policy Agenda states, “The IIJA allows $550 billion in new infrastructure investments, estimated to create around 2 million jobs per year over the next decade. This long-term investment in physical infrastructure can re-imagine how we can productively move people, goods, power and information from home to work, business to business, community to community – and building to building.”   

A guidebook to IIJA funding programs released on Jan. 31 provides a key tool for states and local governments to apply for federal grants, loans, and public-private partnership resources under more than 375 infrastructure investment programs.  (The Hill, Jan. 31 and Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 4) 

#  #  # 

Positive Transit Measures Included in Reconciliation Package

Infrastructure Virginia highway

The House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee this week marked-up its $57.3 billion piece of the reconciliation package with a focus on mass transit and high-speed rail.

  • Many of the T&I measures are now in line with the Biden administration’s original transit priorities, which were pared down in the Senate’s final physical infrastructure bill. (Washington Post, Sept. 10)
  • Roundtable-supported measures in the T&I Committee’s bill include:

    • A competitive federal grant program to support transit access for affordable housing projects and improve mobility for low-income riders; 
    • Grants administered by the Federal Highway Administration to support transportation equity and reconnect communities divided by “existing infrastructure barriers;”
    • Funds to improve high-speed rail corridors;
    • Credit risk assistance to develop rail infrastructure under the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement financing (RRIF) program; and
    • Funds to convert federal buildings owned or managed by the General Services Administration to “high-performance green buildings.”    
  • Separately, the Ways and Means Committee’s package also proposed favorable tax-exempt bond financing improvements to attract greater public-private partnership investments in transportation projects.

Timing for a House vote on the sprawling reconciliation bill is uncertain. Modifications to the tax, energy or transportation sections of the bill could be introduced when it is sent to the House Rules Committee, which determines floor action – or through an amendment on the floor. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) can afford to lose only three votes when the final legislation comes to a vote. (Bloomberg, Sept. 15)

#  #  # 

Infrastructure Negotiations Shift to Bipartisan Congressional Groups; House, Senate Committees Advance Surface Transportation Bills

Capitol Hill trees clouds in the evening

Months of negotiations on bipartisan infrastructure legislation between President Biden and Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) collapsed this week – and talks have shifted to alternative approaches from bipartisan groups of congressional policymakers. Meanwhile, House and Senate committees are moving forward on spending bills to meet the nation’s surface transportation needs before current funding expires on Sept. 30. (White House statement, June 8 and CQ, June 10) 

Alternative Paths 

  • President Biden recently reduced his original infrastructure package proposal from $2.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion – and requested at least $1 trillion in new spending from Republicans. The Senate GOP group counteroffered with nearly $1 trillion, which included only $330 billion in new spending and the rest from repurposed COVID-19 relief funding signed into law earlier this year. Biden cancelled the talks after the gap over the package’s scope and funding could not be bridged. (The Hill and AP, June 8)
  • Yesterday, a bipartisan group of 10 senators said they would propose a plan focused on “core, physical infrastructure” infrastructure that would cost $974 billion over five years, or $1.2 trillion over eight years, including about $579 billion in new spending. (CQ and New York Times and Washington Post, June 10)
  • According to Axios, “The group proposes paying for it through unspent coronavirus relief aid, public-private partnerships, indexing the gas tax to account for inflation and allowing states to borrow necessary money through a revolving loan fund.”
  • A joint statement released by the senators said, “[We] reached a bipartisan agreement on a realistic, compromise framework to modernize our nation’s infrastructure and energy technologies. This investment would be fully paid for and not include tax increases.” (Joint statement, June 10)

  • In the House, the Problem Solvers Caucus, which has 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans, on June 9 released a $1.25 trillion infrastructure spending framework, including $761.8 billion in new spending over eight years – yet did not include any details about how to pay for the proposal. (News release, Building Bridges Infrastructure  Framework and section-by-section summary)
  • The co-chairs of the House caucus – Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) – are also in contact with a key group of bipartisan group of senators, including Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Joe Manchin, (D-WV) about developing a bipartisan, bicameral infrastructure package. (CQ, June 9)

  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki this week said, “[President Biden] feels it’s encouraging to see multiple proposals put out there, both from Republicans in the House and the Problem Solvers Caucus, as well as a bipartisan group that’s working on a proposal. Both will have increased numbers over what we’ve seen and been negotiating to date. Those are all positive steps.” (White House Press Gaggle, June 9)

Surface Transportation Legislation 

road construction and workers

  • Yesterday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee advanced a five-year, $547 billion surface transportation bill by a vote of 38-26 that included two supporting Republican votes. (Section-by-section summary of the INVEST in America Act)
  • Although the House Ways and Means Committee needs to address how to fund the bill’s costs, many of the provisions align with Biden administration transportation priorities – and could serve as a possible cornerstone for a larger infrastructure package. (CQ and BGov, June 10)
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said the chamber will take up the T&I committee bill the week of June 28.  A reauthorization bill for surface transportation is considered must-pass legislation as current funding expires Sept 30. (Washington Post, June 10)
  • In the Senate, several committees have jurisdiction over portions of that chamber’s surface transportation bill. The Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously voted on May 26 to advance a $303.5 billion bill over the next five years to fund the nation’s roads, bridges, tunnels, and mass transit projects. (Roundtable Weekly, June 4)
  • The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is scheduled to consider rail and safety issues on June 16. Separately, a spokeswoman for Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Committee said Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said he continues to work with Ranking Member Patrick Toomey (R-PA) “in hopes of reaching a bipartisan agreement on a robust transit title for a surface transportation bill.” (CQ, June 10)

Reconciliation

Schumer fists podium

  • Democrats are also considering the use of the budget “reconciliation” process, which would allow them to bypass the Senate’s 60-vote requirement to pass legislation and push through an infrastructure package on a party line vote. (Roundtable Weekly, June 4)
  • Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), above, said yesterday, “We continue to proceed on two tracks. A bipartisan track and a reconciliation track — and both are moving forward.” (Washington Post, June 10)
  • Schumer said last week that he wants to move forward on an infrastructure bill in July, whether it is bipartisan or not. (The Hill, May 25)
  • A National League of Cities’ 2021 State of Cities report released this week supported the need for infrastructure investment nationwide. Of the 600 mayors who provided information for the report, 91 percent said they did not have the funds to make needed infrastructure investments. (NLC news release, June 10)

The Roundtable will focus on the evolving infrastructure negotiations and their possible impact on CRE during its June 15-16 Annual Meeting and Policy Advisory Committee Meetings in Washington, DC.

#  #  #

Senate Committee Unanimously Reauthorizes Highway Trust Fund; β€œGateway” Hudson Tunnel Project Reaches Major Milestone

Senate Environment & Public Works Comittee

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee’s unanimous vote last week to advance $303.5 billion over the next five years to fund the nation’s largest source for roads, bridges, tunnels, and mass transit may help advance negotiations over President Biden’s infrastructure proposal. (BGov, May 26)

A Bipartisan Signal

  • Senate EPW Ranking Member Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) is the lead GOP negotiator on the White House’s infrastructure proposal, which includes $115 billion for repairing Main Street roads, highways and bridges. (White House Fact Sheet: The American Jobs Plan, March 31)
     
  • Sen. Capito said the 20-vote committee vote to advance the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act “… is further proof that a bipartisan infrastructure deal is possible. I’m hopeful this bipartisan product can be the anchor of a larger infrastructure package moving forward.” (Senate EPW Markup and news release, May 26)
     
  • The Senate committee’s measure would set a new baseline funding level for the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund – an increase of more than 34 percent from the last reauthorization to pass Congress in 2015.  (Full text of the EPW bill and one-page summary)

Time Considerations

Road Construction ramp

  • The Senate EPW Committee only has jurisdiction over the surface transportation bill’s highway section. The Senate Commerce Committee is next, with a markup expected the week of June 14. The Senate Finance Committee will eventually address how to pay for the measure and the Senate Banking Committee will consider sections dealing with mass transit programs.
     
  • In the House, Democrats on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee  introduced the INVEST in American Act today and plan to mark up their surface reauthorization bill on June 9. (Bill Text | Fact Sheet | Section-by-Section and Washington Post, June 4)
  • The Biden administration was encouraged by the Senate EPW vote. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a May 25 briefing that the$303 billion dollar bill “is a great down payment” for a broader infrastructure package. (BGov, May 26)
     
  • However, the administration has expressed it is on a tighter deadline to advance a comprehensive infrastructure proposal. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently said, “I think we are getting pretty close to a fish-or-cut-bait moment.” (CNN, May 30) 

Gateway Progress

Gateway Hudson Tunnel Project

  • The Biden Administration on May 28 approved a key step allowing the multi-billion dollar “Gateway” rail tunnel project between New York City and New Jersey to move forward, ending years of delay and clearing the way for state officials to apply for federal funding.  (New York Times, May 28)
     
  • The administration’s approval of a long-awaited environmental impact statement clears the way for pre-construction activities to begin on the crucial infrastructure project, which aims to repair tunnels damaged by Superstorm Sandy. (Politico, May 28)
     
  • Transportation Secretary Buttigieg commented on the approval – clearing the way for the project to advance to the next steps such as engineering, final design development, and property acquisition, as well as construction. “This is a big step for the Northeast, and for the entire country, as these tunnels connect so many people, jobs, and businesses,” he said. (DOT statement, May 28)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “It’s probably the most important public works project in America. If those tunnels fail and can’t be used, 25 percent of our economy would be at risk from Boston to Washington.” (Politico, May 28) 

#  #  # 

Bipartisan Legislation to Build More Housing Near Transit Reintroduced

San Diego

The bipartisan Build More Housing Near Transit Act of 2021 (H.R. 2483) – reintroduced on April 14 by Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA) and McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) – would encourage the construction of low and middle-income housing in transit-served, walkable locations. 

  • The United States is in the middle of a severe affordable housing shortage exacerbated by the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates there is a shortage of 7 million affordable homes, and 10.4 million Americans spend more than half of their income on housing. 

Benefits of the Bill 

  • The Build More Housing Near Transit Act of 2021 would provide incentives for building housing developments that use less land, allow people to live closer to job opportunities and effectively reduce green house gas emissions by eliminating the need for cars.
  • The Roundtable-supported bill was initially introduced in the previous Congress, which passed the House as part of last year’s Moving Forward Act. (One-page summary, Up for Growth Action)
  • This year’s bill (H.R. 2483) would ensure the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) takes a holistic and quantitative approach to evaluating applicants seeking to build affordable housing projects near transit station areas. Specifically, the bill would make some minor, but essential, enhancements to the evaluation criteria for the FTA’s Fixed Guideway Capital Investment Grants Program, or Section 5309 grants, which fund projects like commuter rail, light rail, and bus rapid transit. 

Broad Support 

Housing Near Transit

  • The Real Estate Roundtable joined a broad coalition of housing, transportation and other organizations in an April 14 letter to the bill’s sponsors to express strong support for the legislation.
     
  • The coalition letter states, “ From encouraging more thoughtful planning, to supporting more inclusive housing policies, to enabling more efficient use of federal dollars, the Build More Housing Near Transit Act is a sound policy and the product of a collaborative process.”
  • One of the organizations includes Up for Growth Action, whose Executive Director Mike Kingsella said, “The Build More Housing Near Transit Act encourages localities to align land-use policies and affordable housing resources with federal transit investment, ensuring that transit-rich communities are accessible to more Americans.” (Rep. Peters news release, April 24) 

Original cosponsors of the legislation include Reps. Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), David Scott (D-GA), Ami Bera (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), and Tom Suozzi (D-NY). 

#  #  # 

House Democrats to Introduce Infrastructure Proposal

Infrastructure public transit bridge outside Denver CO

A proposal to improve the nation’s infrastructure and surface transportation will be unveiled by House Democratic leaders next week – as the House Ways and Means Committee considers how to pay for it during a Jan. 29 hearing on “Paving the Way for Funding and Financing Infrastructure Investments.” (Deloitte Tax News & Views, Jan. 17)

  • Ways and Means Committee (W&M) Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I)  Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) will be tasked with considering how to offset the costs of a national infrastructure improvement effort and surface transportation bill.  (BGov, Jan. 23)
  • The Ways and Means Committee hearing will explore potential funding options, including raising the gasoline tax; expanding tax-exempt bonds; establishing a vehicle-miles traveled tax; and greater use of public-private partnerships (PPPs).  The Congressional Budget Office reported this week that PPPs have accounted for only 1 to 3 percent of spending for highway, transit, and water infrastructure since 1990.
  • The Roundtable submitted extensive comments on infrastructure policy to both committees last year.  (March 20, 2019 W&M comments; April 29, 2019 T&I comments.)
  • The nation’s largest financing source for roads, bridges, tunnels, and mass transit – the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) – expires on Sept. 30, the end of the government’s 2020 fiscal year. 
  • With HTF reauthorization considered a “must do” legislative priority during this election year, a transportation funding bill will likely become part of the broader infrastructure proposal, which could total $1 trillion or more.
  • The Roundtable and more than 150 national trade associations also wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), on Sept. 30 to reauthorize the HTF before its scheduled expiration. (Roundtable Weekly, Oct. 4)  Chairman DeFazio said his possible funding sources could incorporate federal gas tax revenues and a bonding proposal. (BGov, Jan. 17)
  • In the Senate, four committees will play a role in crafting a long-term HTF package.  Last summer, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee unanimously advanced a bill (S. 2302) that would authorize $287 billion over five years to repair and maintain the nation’s surface transportation. (EPW Committee news release, July 30)
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently discussed with GOP committee leaders possible transportation and infrastructure agendas that could be advanced after the impeachment trial ends.
  • Additionally, the Trump Administration on Jan. 9 proposed changes to federal environmental review requirements to speed major infrastructure projects such as highways, airports, tunnels and pipelines. (Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 10)
  • The proposal by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to streamline the infrastructure approval process complements the similar, bipartisan efforts in the Senate to speed-up delivery for infrastructure projects. (Roundtable Weekly, Aug. 2)

Federal infrastructure efforts, and their vital importance to commercial real estate, are a focus of The Roundtable’s 2020 Policy Agenda, which will be discussed at the organization’s State of the Industry Meeting on January 28-29 in Washington.

#  #  # 

President Trump and Democratic Leaders Aim for $2 Trillion Infrastructure Package; Roundtable Recommends Policies to House Transportation Committee

President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders on Tuesday agreed to pursue a $2 trillion infrastructure package and meet again in three weeks to discuss possible revenue sources.

The Roundtable on April 29 submitted  infrastructure policy recommendations to House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO).  

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said after the White House meeting, “We did come to one agreement: that the agreement would be big and bold.”   Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) added,  “… now it’s up to the president and the White House to tell us how they pay for it.” (Associated Press, April 30)
  • Schumer stated in his Dec. 6, 2018 letter to the president there would be no deal on infrastructure without addressing climate change.  Schumer wrote that one of the policies that should be included in any infrastructure package should, “Provide permanent tax incentives for domestic production of clean electricity and storage, energy efficient homes and commercial buildings …” (Schumer’s letter to President Trump and  Washington Post op-ed).
  • House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) also attended the April 30 White House meeting.  DeFazio’s committee held a Member’s Day hearing on the next day to share their infrastructure priorities. “While I continue to press my colleagues on the Committee on Ways & Means, House Leadership, the Senate, and the White House on a path forward on funding, this Committee must do its legislative work,” DeFazio stated in his opening remarks.
  • The Roundtable on April 29 submitted infrastructure policy recommendations to DeFazio and Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO).  Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer states in the letter, “We offer policy suggestions within your Committee’s jurisdiction to improve programs to repair and modernize the transportation and other systems upon which the U.S. economy depends.  We also suggest targeted changes to the federal tax code, requiring coordination with the Ways and Means Committee, to help pay for our nation’s infrastructure deficit.”  (Roundtable Infrastructure Policies letter, April 29)
  • DeBoer emphasized the goal of the policies is to offer “a holistic approach to modernize our aging infrastructure [that] will create American jobs, boost economic growth, address climate threats, and improve the quality of life in all regions of the country.” 

    The Roundtable’s key suggestion to help pay for infrastructure is to repeal the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act  (FIRPTA) of 1980. Bipartisan FIRPTA repeal legislation ( H.R. 2210 ) was introduced in the House on April 10. (Roundtable Weekly, April 12) 

The Roundtable’s key suggestion to help pay for infrastructure is to repeal the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act  (FIRPTA) of 1980.  FIRPTA imposes a discriminatory layer of capital gains tax on foreign investment-a tax burden that does not apply to any other asset class.  Repealing FIRPTA would serve as a market-driven catalyst to finance improvements in our nation’s infrastructure.  Bipartisan FIRPTA repeal legislation (H.R. 2210) was introduced in the House on April 10. (Roundtable Weekly, April 12).

Other infrastructure policies detailed in The Roundtable’s April 29 letter include: 

  • A beneficial, 10-year cost recovery period for investments that improve energy efficiency performance in commercial and multifamily buildings;
  • Proposals supported by Democratic and Republican administrations alike to streamline the permit process for infrastructure projects;
  • An increase in the federal gas “user fee” in a responsible and sustainable manner;
  • Revising IRS “volume caps” and other limitations on tax-exempt bonds;
  • Improving the TIFIA loan program to encourage more public-private partnerships to finance infrastructure; and
  • Reasonable federal-state cost share rules for grants to support mass transit projects of regional and national significance (like the NY-NJ Gateway program).

The Roundtable’s DeBoer discussed the role of public-private partnerships to develop infrastructure projects on CNBC’s Squawk Box  in June 2017.  (Roundtable Weekly, June 9, 2017)  

Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) has indicated he intends for his committee to consider an infrastructure bill soon.

#  #  # 

House Proposal Suggests Gas Tax Increase, Public-Private Partnerships to Fund Infrastructure Improvements

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), the outgoing chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, released “discussion draft” language on July 23 aimed at improving and sustainably financing U.S. transportation and other infrastructure systems.  (Section-by-Section analysis of the proposal)

Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey D. DeBoer appeared last summer on CNBC’s Squawk Box, emphasizing the importance of P3s as a platform to finance the design, building, operation and long-term maintenance of projects across all infrastructure asset classes(CNBC, June 7, 2017).

  • Shuster, who is retiring after the upcoming midterm elections, provided a “vision statement” explaining that the draft “is intended to further the national conversation about the current state of America’s infrastructure and highlight some of the major roadblocks to funding and improving our transportation network.”  He stated his proposal reflects “input from Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle” in an effort to build bipartisan support.
  • The wide-ranging draft proposes to phase-in increases to the “pay at the pump” gas tax and then eliminate it after 10 years; pilot a per-mile travelled “user fee”; shore-up the federal loan and guarantee program for mass transit; establish a public-private partnership (P3) program to construct and rehabilitate federal buildings; and establish a one-stop federal permitting shop to expedite project approvals.  (Eno Transportation Weekly, July 23) 
  • Any broad infrastructure policy conversation would likely address federal-state cost sharing arrangements for mass transit projects – such as the Gateway program to improve bridge and tunnel crossings between New York and New Jersey.  For example, a  June 29 letter from Trump Administration transit officials indicated a change in agency policy – that loans by the U.S. Transportation Department, repaid by state and local governments,  should factor into grant decisions.  The effect would be to reduce the amount of federal grants for mass transit and increase the state/local share. (B-Gov, July 3
  • Anticipating infrastructure as an issue for possible compromise after the upcoming elections, The Roundtable has offered a number of comments to the Administration and Congressional committees on real estate’s role in creating public-private partnerships to help repair roads, transit, broadband, power grid and other systems that are needed to make communities safe, productive and competitive.  (Roundtable Weekly, January 26) 

Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey D. DeBoer appeared last summer on CNBC’s Squawk Box, emphasizing the importance of P3s as a platform to finance the design, building, operation and long-term maintenance of projects across all infrastructure asset classes.  Policies starting with streamlined permitting and a range of financing platforms should all be considered by lawmakers as layers in the “capital stack” for infrastructure,” DeBoer told Squawk Box. (CNBC, June 7, 2017)