The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in February released its proposed FY 2004 budget, requesting $54.3 billion — a 6% increase over President Bush’s 2003 request.
A total of $14.4 billion targets transportation safety, a top priority for the DOT.
“During the past year, we at DOT have been hard at work creating a safer, simpler and smarter national transportation system for all Americans,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta in a statement.
Highlights of the budget proposal include $7.2 billion for the Federal Transit Administration to maintain U.S. transit systems. In addition, the 2004 budget funds 26 new starts projects, with $1.5 billion requested. The request reflects a proposed expansion of the new starts program to make new non-fixed guideway transportation corridor projects eligible for funding and to encourage project sponsors to consider more cost-effective transit options that may not require a fixed guideway.
Other highlights include an increase to $29.3 billion for highway construction, 6% more than in 2003. The Federal Railroad Administration was allotted $189 million aimed at enhancing safety, while the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were given $447 million and $665 million, respectively.
Bush’s budget includes $900 million for Amtrak, a level designed to encourage Amtrak to adopt reforms that will strengthen its business operations and financial footing, according to Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of transportation. “Amtrak faces severe and persistent financial challenges,” Jackson said.
The proposed level is less than the $1.2 billion Amtrak President David Gunn has said the railroad needs to keep running. In a statement responding to the budget proposals, both Gunn and Amtrak Chairman John Robert Smith said the railroad had undertaken significant reforms to improve its cost-efficiency in the past year. That includes a reorganization eliminating more than 500 positions, adjustments to routes and schedules and withdrawal from a money-losing express business.
“These reforms show clearly that Amtrak’s administration is not conducting business as usual,” the statement said. “Until Congress and other policymakers determine otherwise, as mandated by law, we will continue to operate this system as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.”
John Horsely, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), said $35 billion in federal funding annually is needed just to maintain the current system, about $6 billion more than the Bush Administration proposed.
“That is why AASHTO has called for Congress to ramp up federal highway spending over six years from $34 billion to at least $45 billion, and to increase transit spending from $7.5 billion to at least $11 billion annually,” he said. “Starting with this budget proposal, we hope we can work with Congress to do even more to attain that $34 billion objective in FY 2004.”
The American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) response to the budget proposals noted the lack of increase in federal public transportation investment. “Freezing the investment in public transportation at current levels will hinder economic growth,” APTA President Bill Millar said in a statement.
Millar also stated that an increased investment in public transportation’s infrastructure would advance the president’s goal of improving the environment and reducing dependence on foreign oil.
“APTA also believes that the current 80% match for both highways and public transit projects should be retained and not decreased to 50% for new starts projects,” Millar said.