FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 3, 2020
(Washington, D.C.) – On December 3, Members of the Coalition of the Northeast Corridor (CNEC) met with the Biden transition team to discuss transportation and advocate for infrastructure projects along the Northeast Corridor (NEC), which have been delayed for far too long because of inadequate funding and delayed approval of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) or Records of Decisions (ROD); important changes to federal programs that increase capacity, safety, and reliability of passenger rail; the nomination of critical rail leadership positions; and COVID support for commuter rail employees and systems. CNEC’s priorities can be found in more detail below.
1. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA), or One DOT Record of Decision(s) for the new Hudson Tunnel.
2. DOT determination that the new Tunnel’s Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan constitutes a local (non-federal) funding contribution to the new Hudson Tunnel. Approve the new Hudson Tunnel’s RRIF application.
3. Change the new Hudson Tunnel’s FY2022 ratings for the New Starts Commitment of Funds Rating from Low to at least Medium-Low and Reasonableness of Financial Plan from Low to at least Medium-Low, Local Financial Commitment Summary Rating, and Congestion Relief.
4. Complete Washington Union Station EIS and advance toward construction funding and execution. Washington Union Station is the second busiest train station in United States (behind NY Penn Station) and accommodates 37 million passengers annually. It is the centerpiece of Maryland and Virginia commuter rail access to the District of Columbia and also serves as an important intercity bus terminal. For safety, security, and growth, a major $7-8 billion renovation of the station’s rail infrastructure is necessary and will enable Amtrak to double capacity, MARC to grow by 150% and VRE by 250%. The planning for the Station Expansion Project (SEP) started over 10 years ago. FRA, with Amtrak and Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC; the federal steward of Union Station), are in the fifth year of an EIS for the SEP. There is broad stakeholder consensus among Amtrak, the District of Columbia, and federal planning authorities regarding the changes required to complete the EIS. With appropriate direction from FRA leadership, the EIS can be completed quickly, making the project eligible for funding and execution.
5. Fund the construction of new tunnel to replace the B&P Tunnel in Baltimore. The B&P Tunnel, which requires trains to drop to speeds to 30 mph is a major chokepoint along the NEC impeding capacity and trip times. In 2016, the FRA and Maryland DOT issued an EIS and one year later a ROD for the construction of a new tunnel, which totals $4.5 billion. However, the project remains unfunded.
6. Advance DOT approval of the EIS for the New York MTA Congestion Pricing Program.
Legislative and Federal Priorities
1. Include robust passenger rail funding authorization with a Northeast Corridor program in the transportation reauthorization bill.
2. Direct FRA counsel to interpret Federal State Partnership State of Good Repair (SOGR) grants to include expenses incidental to the acquisition of right of way or real estate or construction (including designing, engineering, location surveying, mapping, environmental studies, and acquiring rights-of-way of a capital project). FRA currently interprets Federal State Partnership in a way that restricts funding from going to Northeast Corridor pre-construction projects. Thus, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees included language to fix the interpretation but the new Administration can reverse the old Administration’s restrictive interpretation.
3. Submit robust FY2022 Federal State Partnership State of Good for $600 million and Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) for $400 million.
4. Restart Build America Bonds (BAB). BABs were featured in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and allow access to a deeper capital market, which in turn makes it possible for more projects to proceed.
5. Expand or eliminate the $15 billion cap on DOT Private Activity Bonds (PAB).
6. Have DOT pay the credit subsidy on RRIF loans as it currently does for Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans.
7. Promote the use of P3 contracts as an option to bring increased capital funding for rail and transit projects, especially important now as many Owners/Agencies are suffering reduced revenues. One specific measure: allow federal funds to be used early in the project development stage to support technical, legal and financial advisory support services necessary to advance P3 type procurements.
8. Allow ROW acquisition to commence before the EIS Record of Decision (ROD) for rail projects, as is currently allowed on highway projects. ROW acquisition is a leading cause of project delays, and should be started earlier in the project development to reduce cost and schedule risk.
9. Continue efforts to streamline the NEPA review process while maintaining the integrity of the process.
10. Considering a potential Stimulus package and investments in infrastructure, a lesson learned from ARRA was limiting projects to “shovel ready” is an unnecessary constraint. There are many potential job creating and economic development projects that are in the pipeline but not shovel ready. Stimulus potential project worthiness should be broadened to recognize the life cycle from planning through construction, and categories of “shovel worthy” should also be considered.
11. Pass transportation funding assistance package, either independently or as part of COVID-19 relief package.
12. Modify local match requirements for grants: including waive local match for FY2021; allow tapered match to defer non-federal match requirements in FY2020-2022.
13. Advance a new Tax Credit Bond/Q-Bond program similar to ARRA Build America Bond program to encourage investment and reduce agency financing costs.
14. Expand funding for TIFIA and RRIF to allow for low-interest financing of 49% of project costs (allowed, but almost never done).
15. Increase level of funding, reduce non-federal match, and expand eligibility of BUILD, INFRA, and CRISI to increase funding for rail and transit.
Rail Leadership Positions
1. Quickly appoint the DOT members of the Northeast Corridor Commission (NECC). Ensure the NECC has a career official as an alternate to DOT’s designee. The Trump administration removed all career officials and NECC cannot obtain quorum without a DOT representative.
2. Nominate competent, qualified Amtrak Board Member(s) as soon as possible.
3. Reorganize FRA Office of Policy and Development’s staff to provide more full time equivalents (FTE). The current Administration gutted this office, and FRA receives new funds for rail infrastructure, staff in this office will analyze and approve a larger amount of grant applications.
1. Ensure rail frontline employees get early access to the vaccine.
2. Advocate for relief for commuter rail agencies’ Section 212 payments in the next COVID-19 relief bill.
3. Support the American Public Transportation Association’s COVID-19 relief request.
4. Fast-track/develop expedited environmental approval process for rail and transit projects associated with COVID-19 recovery.
CNEC is the business community’s voice for strengthening rail infrastructure in order to reduce congestion, create jobs and grow the economy. We represent diverse stakeholders who rely on the Corridor to conduct commerce, access customers, and transport employees.