MIPRC adds Sec. 209 reform, regional planning funding requests to its FAST Act renewal principles
The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission is seeking regional planning funding and a major revision of the federal law that dictates when states must cover the tab for passenger rail in the latest version of its principles and positions for renewing the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act.
Although attention has recently been focused on the Biden administration’s proposed $2.7 trillion American Jobs Plan, Congress is still working to renew the FAST Act of 2015, which expires on Sept. 30.
MIPRC is asking Congress to amend Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 to reduce the threshold of requiring state support for intercity passenger rail routes from 750 miles to 250 miles.
Specifically, MIPRC suggests that “all new routes and increased frequencies initiated by a state or states that are entirely within a state or are multistate corridors less than 250 miles in length would continue to require state funding per the Section 209 policy,” while operating support for all existing, new or expanded state-supported routes over 250 miles in length should transition to being funded through Amtrak’s national network grant – unless states opt to retain control and ownership of those services and continue Section 209 state payments, given the public investments that some states have made in corridors.
MIPRC asks Congress to “consider providing additional federal funding support to states for increasing [intercity passenger rail] frequencies and routes” and whether Amtrak should have ongoing operating funding responsibility for new corridor routes and services it wants to develop, “especially in cases where its preference is not in accord with the host state’s or states’ preferences.”
MIPRC’s other new proposal asks Congress to provide dedicated annual funding for it and other regional entities “for the express purpose of continuing states’ planning and implementation” of the long-term plan for routes and services” identified by the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration’s long-term regional rail studies.
The FRA is wrapping up its Midwestern regional study, which began with a 2015 letter of interest and intent from MIPRC. It has conducted similar studies in the Southwest and Southeast.
Most of MIPRC’s priorities for passenger rail funding were included in 2020 legislation (H.R. 2) approved by the House of Representatives, but never taken up by the Senate before the 116th Congress adjourned. MIPRC updated its reauthorization principles to add recommendations to clarify to some of the language in H.R. 2 and emphasize additional priorities.
MIPRC maintains its call for Amtrak and intercity passenger rail to remain as a separate title in the overall bill, and for “strong, dedicated funding” for Amtrak and the three rail grants created by the FAST Act – Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements, Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair, and Restoration & Enhancement.
MIPRC also maintains its support to reauthorize and “robustly” fund the discretionary BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant program, which the Biden administration has re-named RAISE (Rebuild American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity).
MIPRC supports the new PRIME (Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization and Expansion) grant program proposed in H.R. 2, but asks Congress to
• Specify that NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) planning is an eligible activity under the three extant grant programs and the proposed PRIME grant program;
• Significantly increase funding for the Restoration & Enhancement grant program while specifying that the proposed PRIME grants are not intended to replace R&E grants, nor may Amtrak’s projects be given priority over state-sponsored projects; and
• Clarify how Amtrak should work with states to improve corridor services when its priorities don’t match, or are in conflict with, the state’s (or states’) priorities.
MIPRC continues its support for Amtrak to be granted the legal tool known as the “private right of action” to enforce its statutory right of preference in federal court without having to rely on an agency to act on its behalf.
The updated principles/positions, which were shared with the Biden administration in an April 20 letter expressing support for the American Jobs Plan’s passenger rail provisions, can be seen here in their entirety.