As I write this, we are a few days away from another potential government shutdown if negotiations on border security are not hammered out. I recently spoke with APTA President/CEO Paul P. Skoutelas about the impact of the shutdown on public transportation, infrastructure investment, and technology.
“The impacts that were beginning to take effect included everything from having to look to other cash reserves to bridge the gap when they were expecting the flow of federal dollars, to not being able to draw down any grants to pay bills due on capital projects and some of their operating expenses,” said Skoutelas.
While some smaller agencies had to curtail services, some larger transit agencies had to juggle their resources and cash reserves and even tap a line of credit to make it through. “Chicago Transit Authority draws down in an average month, between $15 to $30 million dollars in federal reimbursement for its various capital programs,” he explained to illustrate the gravity of the situation.
“If the shutdown picks up again, I’m very concerned for the health of the industry and the individual agencies, because as time goes on, those implications will become more severe,” Skoutelas said.
On another financial note, during his State of the Union Address, the President called for a bipartisan push to rebuild “America’s crumbling infrastructure,” CNBC reported. Although spending $1.5 trillion over a decade for infrastructure projects was one of the President’s campaign promises, major funding has not been forthcoming, the report said.
When asked about funding for infrastructure, Skoutelas is optimistic. He cited the new leadership in the House and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) who is now Chairman of the House Committee of Transportation & Infrastructure. According to Skoutelas, DeFazio has indicated he wants to move a bill forward by as early as May.
“With the prospect of advancing an infrastructure bill this spring, this could be an opportunity to fix the Highway Trust Fund and possibly extend the FAST Act,” said Skoutelas.
“We face a $1 trillion surface transportation investment gap over the next 10 years to fix the infrastructure we have, meet future needs, and restore our global competitiveness,” said DeFazio in a statement. “I will work to build bipartisan agreement around legislation, but I can’t do it alone. This will require massive effort from the White House, stakeholders, and supporters in Congress to get something real across the finish line.”
My fingers are crossed that both sides of the aisle come together to avoid another shutdown and make some meaningful progress toward funding transportation’s past (backlog), present, and future.
Janna Starcic is the executive editor of METRO Magazine.