President Obama unveiled his 2013 budget proposal on Monday, and the $3.8 trillion dollar fiscal blueprint contained a number of important transportation-related elements. (You can read the entire budget here.)
The biggest of these elements is a six-year, $476 billion plan meant to modernize the country’s transportation infrastructure. That includes $2.7 billion in 2013 and $47 billion over six years for high-speed rail development and other rail programs.
This would be partially paid for through the winding down of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (the budget calls this a “peace dividend,” a term we often hear at the end of major military campaigns).
The budget also includes $50 billion in immediate infrastructure investments aimed at improving roads, bridges, transit systems, border crossings, rails and runways.
The increase in funds isn’t just for the roads and rails. There's also more than $1 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen system, which shifts air traffic control from a ground-based radar system to a Global Positioning System-based network.
There’s also $117 million for new explosive detection systems at U.S. airports and another $58 million allotted to streamline the transportation security vetting process.
The budget calls for the establishment of an independent, non-partisan National Infrastructure Bank, to be headed up by infrastructure and financial experts. This bank would issue loans and loan guarantees to large-scale transportation, water and energy infrastructure projects costing a minimum of $100 million. These loans could be extended by up to 35 years, but the bank would finance no more than half the total costs of any project.
For all of the money allotted to transportation projects and improvements, there are also transportation-related cuts. Local commuters already know the budget would reduce Metro’s annual funding by $15 million.
The budget would also cut $926 million in funding for airport grants by eliminating guaranteed funding for large and medium airports. Federal grants would continue to support smaller airports, while larger airports would be able to raise more of their own revenue. (You know what this means: More fees could be looming.)
He instead advocated for a bill that is supported by House Republicans, which spends more than $200 billion less and covers five years. (There’s also a Senate transportation bill under consideration, which covers two years and spends about $109 billion.)
This bill, expected to be considered by the House this week, would shift more decision-making authority to state governments. It would also end guaranteed funding for mass transit, which has elicited an outcry from public transportation advocates, business groups and state and local government officials worried about the long-term impact of that strategy.