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USDOT Announces COVID-19 Relief Funding

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

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At the beginning of the month, the United States Department of Transportation announced $25 billion in federal funding allocations for the nation’s transportation systems and $1 billion in funding for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both allocations were made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed by President Donald J. Trump on March 27.

“This historic $25 billion in grant funding will ensure our nation’s public transportation systems can continue to provide services to the millions of Americans who depend on them,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

Transportation Funding

The announcement for funding arrives after the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) inked a letter to Congressional leaders last month, seeking support for the creation of a fiscal “backstop” for the transportation sector as a result of the economic impact experienced from COVID-19.

Nikada / Getty Images

At the beginning of the month, the United States Department of Transportation announced $25 billion in federal funding allocations for the nation’s transportation systems and $1 billion in funding for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the letter, AASHTO urged Congress to grant an immediate and temporary waiver for federal truck weight restrictions, giving states maximum flexibility and discretion to manage interstate transportation of emergency supplies in combatting against the virus.

Additionally, officials requested $16.7 billion in supplemental federal transportation funding to backstop expected state revenue shortfalls and asked that transportation investments “double down” so that highway and transit investment backlog can be reduced, and long-term economic recovery could be enabled.

According to the USDOT’s press release, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) plans to use the $25 billion in allocated funding by giving $22.7 billion will to projects in large and small urban areas, while $2.2 billion is slated to be used for rural infrastructure.

“Funding will be provided at a 100% Federal share, with no local match required, and will be available to support capital, operating, and other expenses generally eligible under those programs to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19,” stated the release.

The FTA adds that operating expenses incurred beginning on January 20, for all rural and urban recipients are also eligible for maintaining transit services and administrative leave due to reduced operations.

Other steps the FTA has taken to provide relief include expanding its eligibility for federal assistance under its Emergency Relief Program, establishing an Emergency Relief docket and the announcement of a 30-day extension for deadlines regarding current competitive grant program funding opportunities, including: FTA’s Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program; Passenger Ferry Grant Program; Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) Challenge Grants; and Helping Obtain Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) Program.

FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane William adds, “We know that many of our Nation’s public transportation systems are facing extraordinary challenges and these funds will go a long way to assisting our transit industry partners in battling COVID-19.”

Amtrak Funding

AASHTO went a step further in its letter last month, requesting that operational community and investment in America’s State-supported passenger rail networks (Amtrak) was also supported during COVID-19. In the letter, ASSHTO penned its support for Amtrak’s emergency request for $978 million, which included $200 million to help offset losses on state-supported routes.

On April 10, USDOT announced in a sperate press release that its Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) would receive $1 billion in funding to support Amtrak’s activities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the spread of COVID-19, in addition to its impacts on operations and business.

According to the release, Amtrak has experienced an unprecedented decline of over 90% in ridership, in addition to a decline in future ticket purchases for the coming months and has even discontinued service on certain routes.

“This funding will help ensure that Amtrak is able to quickly return to service supporting both the public’s transportation mobility needs, and America’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 public health emergency,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said.

“We are committed to transparency and are requiring enhanced reporting from Amtrak to show how the CARES Act funding is being efficiently and effectively used to respond to present challenges.”

In receiving the funds, FRA is slated to make or amend existing grants to Amtrak in order to provide approximately $1.02 billion; $492,000,000 for the Northeast Corridor and $526,000,000 for National Network Grants, as authorized by sections 11101(a) and 11101(b) of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

At least $239,000,000 of funds are also slated to be used to help mitigate the cost impact on America’s 28 State-supported intercity passenger rail routes.

Recent Funding Made Available

Last month, President Trump reportedly signed a $2 trillion stimulus bill aimed to help American citizens experiencing lay-offs, companies suffering financially and the health care system amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the opportunity for federal aid comes as a relief, in some cases, splitting up the grants will be left up to localities and other recipients. Some reports claim that with drastic revenue losses, some airports and transit systems could be more likely to use the relief to offset that revenue verses putting the money into ongoing or upcoming construction projects.

As listed in the Senate Appropriations Committee, highlights of the package include:

  • $117 Billion for Hospitals and Veterans Health Care;
  • $45 Billion for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund;
  • $16 Billion for the Strategic National Stockpile;
  • $4.3 Billion for the Centers for Disease Control; and
  • $11 Billion for Vaccines, Therapeutics, Diagnostics and Other Medical Needs.

Those numbers were then broken down into various subcommittees. In breaking down the allotted funding, the Engineering News-Record has calculated that while more than 80% of the package will go to state, local governments and communities, infrastructure and construction could be eligible for roughly $43 billion of that total.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department released clarification on its Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program just days after the Associated General Contractors of America wrote a letter noting that the loan guidance had appeared to exclude many construction firms.

In its clarification, the Administration specifies that all businesses that employ fewer than 500 people qualify for the program.

View all of PaintSquare Daily News' coverage on COVID-19, here.

   

Tagged categories: COVID-19; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Railroad Administration; Funding; Government; Government contracts; Mass transit; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Public Transit; Rail; Roads/Highways; Transportation

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