October 2020 Legislative Update
FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.
Continuing Resolution and Surface Transportation Reauthorization
The Senate voted just in time late Wednesday night to approve a Continuing Resolution to extend FY2020 funding levels until Dec. 11. The CR allows the Senate to wait until after the Nov. 3 general election to finalize the federal government’s FY2021 budget. Pending the outcome of the presidential and senatorial races, a lame duck Congress may either wrap up their FY2021 negotiations by the new December deadline or pass a second CR to allow the 117th Congress to make adjustments in January that reflect different priorities.
Along with the CR, the Senate approved a one-year surface transportation reauthorization, extending FAST Act funding levels until Sept. 30, 2021. A surface transportation reauthorization bill will be among the most important agenda items when the 117th Congress is seated in January.
Finally, there has been a slight hiccup with the National Defense Authorization Act, which awaits a conference committee comprised of both House and Senate members. A dispute over military installations named for Confederate leaders has led party leaders to agree to postpone action on the FY2021 NDAA until after the election. Washington insiders remain confident that Congressional leaders will come to a quick resolution.
Stimulus Talks Resume
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have resumed their talks to provide another round of stimulus funding during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last night the House passed a more “modest” version of The Heroes Act (first proposed in May) that would provide $2.2 trillion in aid. This updated Heroes Act calls for another $48.1 billion for the US Department of Transportation, after the $36.1 billion it received under the first round of stimulus in March. Under this new bill, transit agencies, airports and airlines would receive funds, but federal highways would not. The House bill is merely a starting point for negotiations with the Trump Administration, so any deal struck could look significantly different from what the new Heroes Act proposes, although both sides appear keen to pass another stimulus bill before the November elections.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released the final Rule of Particular Applicability and the Record of Decision (ROD) for Texas Central’s Dallas to Houston High-Speed Rail Project. The final rule establishes safety standards for the Texas Central Railroad high-speed rail (HSR) system. These standards are not intended for general application in the railroad industry but apply only to the Texas Central system planned for development in the State of Texas. The system is planned to operate from Houston to Dallas, on dedicated track, with no grade crossings, at speeds no higher than 330 km/h (205 mph). The Texas Central rolling stock, track, and core systems will replicate the Tokaido Shinkansen HSR system operated by the Central Japan Railway Company (JRC) and will be used exclusively for revenue passenger service. The ROD allows Texas Central to move forward with the project design and eventual construction. The ROD also formally designates the alignment that Texas Central will follow between Dallas and Houston. The alignment selected by FRA is referred to as “Build Alternative A” in the ROD.
The pre-published Rule of Particular Applicability and Record of Decision has been posted to the FRA website.
September 17, 2020
House Transportation Committee Chairman Terry Canales hosted a virtual town hall meeting. The meeting discussed the COVID-19 impact on Texas transportation. During the event, speakers reported on how Texas transportation finance has been affected, what the State has learned about transportation safety, and how TxDOT responded to the pandemic. Speakers included Bruce Bugg, Jr., Chair of the Texas Transportation Commission; James Bass, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Transportation; Guillermo Treviño, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles; and Whitney Brewster, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
Texas Transportation Commission
August 27, 2020
The 2021 Unified Transportation Plan (UTP) was passed unanimously at the August meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission. The UTP is based on a 10-year forecast. Discussion highlighted the UTP process and emphasized the impact of exogeneous events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Comptroller’s revised budget estimate. Other TxDOT staff emphasized equity through formula funding.
September 24, 2020
No major actions impacting North Texas were taken at the September Texas Transportation Commission meeting. The commissioners made several interesting comments at the meeting. Commissioner New emphasize the importance of pavement management during his opening comments. In addition, he spoke about the six bridges whose management was shared by TxDOT and the Mexican government. Commissioner Ryan continued her focus on safety and noted that recently the State of Texas experienced a day where only a single motorist was killed on Texas roads. She also reported that some counties have zero-death days. Commissioner Bugg focused on the rural versus urban balance reflected in the 2021 UTP. Executive Director James Bass thanked TxDOT staff for their tireless efforts during Tropical Storm Beta.
RECENT COMMITTEE HEARINGS
The House Natural Resources Committee met on Oct. 1 to discuss H.R. 5986 “Environmental Justice for All Act.” This bill would strengthen National Environmental Policy Act provisions, including by requiring a new “community impact report” for federal actions with the potential to cause environmental or public health impacts on environmental justice communities. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said the report would add red tape to the NEPA process, which already addresses these concerns. However, many of the witnesses said the community impact report was necessary to highlight public health concerns.
UPCOMING COMMITTEE HEARINGS
The Senate Transportation Committee will meet on Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 9 am to hold a hearing on “Passenger and Freight Rail: The Current Status of the Rail Network and the Track Ahead.” The hearing will examine the current state of the passenger and freight rail network, including impacts of COVID-19 and legislative considerations for surface transportation reauthorization. Witnesses include Mr. Ian Jefferies, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of American Railroads.
To view Committee Hearings for the Texas Senate click here:
To view Committee Hearings for the Texas House click here: