Senate May Consider Combined THUD and MilCon-VA Appropriations Bills This Week
This week the Senate is expected to consider the $56.5 billion FY 2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Act on the floor, likely by combining the THUD bill with the FY 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Act into one piece of legislation.
The Senate THUD bill honors the authorization levels in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act for the Federal-Aid Highway Program and Transit formula programs funded from the Highway Trust Fund. The THUD bill would also provide $2.3 billion for the Capital Investment Grant program, which funds New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity Improvement projects for transit systems, and $525 million for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, a $25 million increase over FY 2016.
However, before considering THUD and MilCon-VA, the Senate is expected to take a third cloture vote on the FY 2017 Energy and Water Development (Energy-Water) Appropriations Act. The first two votes failed to garner the 60 votes required due to a controversial amendment related to the Iran nuclear agreement that Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is expected to offer on the floor. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it includes the amendment, and Senate Democrats have blocked the bill from reaching the floor.
FTA Issues Safety Directive to WMATA Ordering Immediate Safety Improvements
On Friday, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) General Manager, Paul Wiedefeld, released a long-term maintenance plan for the Metrorail system that includes unprecedented multi-day closures of segments of rail line throughout the system, reductions in hours of operations, and single-tracking of many segments in an effort to compress three years of repairs and maintenance into a single year. Washington-area Congressional Democrats were quick to voice support for the plan, which the Metro Board will vote on in the coming weeks.
This weekend, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued Safety Directive No. 16-3, ordering WMATA to “take urgent action to address persistent safety findings with personnel response to safety risks.” The Safety Directive directs WMATA to take steps to elevate emergency planning, exercises, testing, and readiness and to focus on safety rather than operational demands. This includes reducing the power drawn from the electrified third rail to lower the chance of another fire along a rail line due to electrical “arcing,” either by reducing the number of cars per train or reducing the train’s speed in high-risk areas. FTA also directed WMATA to conduct a safety stand-down to ensure all WMATA employees understand and comply with all requirements for safe operations, with a focus on managing and preventing fire and smoke emergencies.
President Obama also faced a question about WMATA issues during a recent press conference, and used the opportunity to blame the Republican Congress for allowing this type of situation to develop by failing to adequately invest in the Nation’s infrastructure. He challenged both Congress and the remaining presidential candidates to propose a meaningful “agenda for infrastructure” – including a means of paying for it.
For its part, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on May 24 titled “Improving the Safety and Reliability of the Washington Metro.”
This Week’s Hearings:
- Thursday, May 12: The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing titled “Examining Management Practices and Misconduct at TSA (Transportation Security Administration): Part II.”