H.R. 3819, Highway & PTC Extension
(Bloomberg Government) — Federal highway, transit and safety programs would be extended through Nov. 20 under H.R. 3819, which would also extend a deadline for railroads to implement a safety system known as positive train control (PTC).
The highway programs were most recently extended in July under Public Law 114-41 and are set to expire Oct. 29. The bill would be the fourth extension of the last longer-term reauthorization, Public Law 112-141, which is known as MAP-21 and ran through Sept. 30, 2014.
Reauthorization of highway programs would keep money flowing to states for transportation projects. Lawmakers are also working on a long-term surface transportation bill and ways to pay for it.
The measure also would delay a requirement that directs railroads to implement PTC by Dec. 31. Many operators have said they cannot meet the deadline, and some have said that service will be disrupted if the deadline isn’t extended.
The measure would reauthorize the primary surface transportation programs — for roads, transit and safety — through Nov. 20 at the same rate provided for fiscal 2015.
The largest allocation would be to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The measure would set a $5.6 billion limit on the amount that could be obligated for federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs. The limit reflects the $40.3 billion in place for fiscal 2015, prorated for the first 51 days of fiscal 2016.
The Federal Transit Administration’s programs, which are funded through a mix of general fund dollars and money from the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund, also would be extended. The measure’s FTA authorizations from the Mass Transit Account would include $1.2 billion for formula grants from Oct. 1 through Nov. 20. It also would authorize $265.7 million from the general fund for capital investment grants, such as “New Starts,” in that time frame.
Other programs that would be reauthorized through Nov. 20 include:
— Highway safety programs under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for which $32.7 million would be allowed from Oct. 1 through Nov. 20.
— Motor carrier safety grants under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, for which $30.4 million would be allowed for that period.
— Hazardous materials activities of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which would receive $6 million for that period.
— Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act activities.
The authority to spend money from the Highway Trust Fund would also be extended through Nov 20. The authority is set to expire Oct. 29.
Unlike previous extensions, the bill wouldn’t transfer any money from the general fund to maintain the Highway Trust Fund, which the Transportation Department projects will remain solvent until next summer.
The Highway Trust Fund is primarily financed through fuel taxes, including an 18.3-cents-per-gallon tax on gas and 24.3-cents-per-gallon tax on diesel, as well as taxes on trucks, trailers, and truck tires.
The bill would similarly extend expenditure authority for the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund and the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund, both of which are also set to expire Oct. 29.
The LUST fund, which is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, is used to address petroleum releases from federally regulated underground storage tanks. It is financed through a 0.1-cent-per-gallon tax on fuels.
Railroads would be granted an extension — until at least Dec. 31, 2018 — to implement positive train control systems. The Transportation Department would be allowed to extend the deadline for as long as two additional years in some cases, and would be permitted to approve implementation in phases.
A 2008 rail safety law, Public Law 110-432, required many freight and passenger railroads to develop plans for implementing a PTC system by Dec. 31, 2015.
PTC systems use communications and signaling technology to prevent accidents caused by excessive speed, train-on-train collisions and incorrect routing. The National Transportation Safety Board has said that PTC technology would have prevented the fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on May 12.
Under the measure, railroads would be required to submit a revised implementation plan to the department within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.
A railroad could also request an alternative schedule with an implementation deadline of no later than Dec. 31, 2020. The department would have 90 days to consider if the railroad has:
— acquired and installed all PTC hardware and radio frequency spectrum by the end of 2018;
— completed all required employee training; and
— implemented PTC within most of the railroad’s territory, such as subdivisions or districts, or in at least one territory for smaller railroads.
The department would notify a railroad within 45 days of receiving an alternative proposal if the proposal doesn’t meet the criteria, and allow the railroad to correct any deficiencies.
From the date of the bill’s enactment until one year after the last railroad implements PTC, all railroads would be exempt from regulations and reporting requirements when a locomotive’s PTC system malfunctions. Instead, a railroad affected by a system failure would need to make a reasonable effort to identify and fix the faulty component in a timely manner. Affected railroads would also need to have safety measures in place and to report any failures within seven days. The deadline could be extended under certain circumstances.
Under existing regulations, smaller operators such as tourist railroads have separate deadlines for installing PTC systems in their locomotives. The measure would require the department to extend those deadlines by three years. The latest deadline for small operators is currently Dec. 31, 2020.
The department could use its current statutory authority to assess civil fines of as much as $25,000 on railroads that fail to submit or comply with a revised plan or alternative schedule. Fines could increase to $100,000 for gross negligence or repeated violations leading to injury or death. Individuals can be fined for willful violations, but are protected if they were following orders and documented their objection.
Full PTC implementation is estimated to cost about $14 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Enactment of the bill would delay those costs.
Class I freight railroads with annual operating revenue of $467 million or more are required to implement PTC technology. The largest Class I railroads are BNSF Railway Co., CSX Corp., Norfolk Southern Corp., and Union Pacific Corp. The companies have lobbied Congress on PTC extension measures, according to 2015 disclosure filings.
The bill would also affect businesses that rely on railroads to transport their products or materials.
PTC Group Positions
Groups that SUPPORT extending the PTC deadline include the Association of American Railroads (letter), American Public Transportation Association (letter), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (letter), American Farm Bureau Federation, National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation, National Mining Association and Freight Rail Customer Alliance (group letter).
OPPONENTS of a deadline extension include the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), a division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Center for Effective Government (blog post).
“Each death caused by the delay of PTC’s implementation is one too many, and Congress capitulating to the railroads for this broad extension is most certainly not in the public interest,” BLET’s Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman said in a March 25 press release regarding an extension approved the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee.
The “Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015” was introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, Ranking Member Pete DeFazio and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.
The transportation panel approved a long-term surface transportation reauthorization, H.R. 3763, by voice vote on Oct. 22. It includes identical language on extending the PTC deadline. The measure doesn’t include offsets, which are typically provided by the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Senate passed a long-term highway bill, H.R. 22, by a vote of 65-34 on July 30. It would authorize the programs for six years and provide three years of funding. It also would reauthorize rail programs and would allow the Transportation Department to approve PTC extensions on a case-by-case basis.
The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 3819 the week of Oct. 26 under suspension of the rules, which would require a two-thirds majority for passage. It probably will receive that level of support.
The Senate will probably pass the bill without any changes, which would clear it for the president’s signature and avoid a lapse in the highway programs.
The president would sign the short-term extension measure, reports Bloomberg BNA’s Stephanie Beasley.
The bill would give lawmakers about three weeks to come to agreement on a longer-term measure or face another short-term extension.