The fallout continued to spread from President Trump’s proposals to cut a number of transportation-related programs in initial budget plan, despite the fact that the administration has tempered those proposals by saying it will address some of those areas in its still-to-come $1 trillion infrastructure package.
Groups including the American Association of Port Authorities, Transportation for America, National Association of Rail Passengers and National Association of Counties said the proposals would have a sharp impact on their constituents and industries.
That comes on top of concerns already reported by the American Public Transit Association about his proposed cuts for transit and passenger rail projects.
Trump proposed in a summary budget document that is being called the “skinny budget” – with more detailed information to come in May – that Congress cut the U.S. Department of Transportation’s discretionary funding by 13 percent, and terminate Energy and Commerce department grant programs that support advanced vehicles and economic development-related transportation projects.
The president proposed ending TIGER infrastructure grants, saying the program “awards grants to projects that are generally eligible for funding under existing surface transportation.” That would shift more of the burden for funding projects to the Highway Trust Fund, which directs formula highway and transit allocations and includes a separate grant carve-out for mainly freight-related projects.
TIGER, which Congress has funded separately and most recently at $500 million a year, covered a wider range of projects including many for the nation’s maritime ports. In addition, Trump also proposed sizable spending cuts for the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, all of which worried AAPA President Kurt Nagle.
“We’re apprehensive about the fiscal 2018 budget,” Nagle said. “Adequate federal investments into U.S. port-related infrastructure, both on the landside and waterside, are crucial for the efficient movement of goods so the nation can remain globally competitive . . . It’s vital the federal government uphold its end of the partnership with ports so the country can have a 21st century goods movement system in place.”
He said ports landed $61.8 million in multimodal TIGER grants last year, and benefit from the EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants that he indicated might also be cut. And the Corps of Engineers’ Coastal Navigation program, Nagle said, funds improvements and maintenance in America’s harbors and deep-draft shipping channels.
The president also wants to end the Federal Aviation Administration’s Essential Air Service subsidies that support commercial air travel in smaller, rural communities and that support transportation in large, aviation-dependent states. He would spin off the FAA’s air traffic control to a nonprofit corporation.
Trump would limit funding for new transit construction projects only to those that already have locked in formal full-funding grant agreements, and end federal subsidies for Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains outside the Northeast Corridor.
The National Association of Rail Passengers said the proposed cuts to Amtrak, transit and commuter rail programs and air service to rural towns “would not only cost construction and manufacturing jobs, but place a disproportionate amount of pain on rural and working class communities.”
T4America Director Adrea Turner said: “This budget proposal severely undercuts the president’s stated commitment to infrastructure, and would leave behind many of the rural communities that supported him in November. After months of promises to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure, the first concrete action taken by the Trump administration on this issue is to propose drastic cuts to transportation programs that bring notable economic benefits to communities across the country, from small towns to large cities.”
Turner also called the proposals “a slap in face to the millions of local residents who have raised their own taxes – with the full expectation they would be combined with the limited pool of federal grants – to complete their priority transportation projects.”
An analysis by NACO said Trump’s budget “would significantly impact the nation’s 3,069 counties,” and compiled a long list of proposed cuts to programs counties rely on.
The group said eliminating the TIGER grants “would have a direct impact on counties’ ability to utilize federal dollars for projects within our communities, harming local safety efforts, including enhancing road safety.”
Trump’s proposed end to transit new-start grants for projects that have not yet finalized their funding agreements would throw more project costs onto local agencies, NACO said, while halting Essential Air Service subsidies “would hurt rural counties where EAS services provide a crucial economic lifeline to communities with no airport in their region.” Even the proposed air traffic control change, the group said, could disrupt counties if a new ATC authority would alter tower operations.
USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao tried in a “Highlights” blog post to ease concerns among transportation stakeholders.
The president’s budget “is just the beginning of the budget process, not the end,” Chao wrote, with a “more complete picture” to come when the White House Budget Office releases its final budget in May, “and as the president’s infrastructure initiative takes shape.”
She said the budget director had already noted that “the strategy behind the savings in the DOT budget is to move money out of existing, inefficient programs and hold these funds for more efficient programs that will be included in the infrastructure package under development.”