The latest iteration of congressional Democrats’ budget reconciliation package reduces the amount of transportation-related spending by a little more than $10 billion, paring down funding for ports and sustainable aviation fuel from the original proposal by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
While most of the focus among transportation groups has centered on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes $550 billion in new spending for built infrastructure such as highways and transit, Democrats had hoped to flesh out investments further when crafting the reconciliation package. That larger spending bill also includes dollars for child care, fighting climate change and other domestic priorities.
The newest version of the reconciliation bill, trimmed at the insistence of moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, still includes $10 billion for a new program that would bring more transit services to low-income communities and spends $10 billion for a high-speed passenger rail program. Both are key priorities of President Joe Biden that were also in the original reconciliation measure the committee approved Sept. 15.
The newest version of the bill also still includes $4 billion for a program aimed at removing infrastructure that separates Black and brown communities from cities, and $4 billion for a greenhouse gas emission reduction program for highways, both also Biden priorities.
But the latest version reduces port infrastructure grants from $2.5 billion to $600 million — a move that may be controversial as the United States grapples with a supply chain logjam that has clogged the nation’s ports.
In an emailed response to a query about the cuts, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Port Authorities said while they were grateful the dollars for port infrastructure were not cut entirely, the group is disappointed nonetheless.
“This money is a generational investment in port infrastructure, and more will be needed to prepare supply chains for the future of freight transportation,” she said.
The money in the reconciliation bill would be in addition to $10 billion overall devoted to ports infrastructure in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. The original deal had included some $17 billion for ports.
Among the allocations in the bipartisan bill are $250 million for a study on reducing truck emissions at port facilities and $2.25 billion for a port infrastructure development program. There are also broader grant programs in the bill that could benefit ports.
Adie Tomer, head of the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said while the current House reconciliation bill would “certainly limit” the Maritime Administration’s ability to help solve supply chain challenges, many are difficult for government to solve. Most of the supply chain is controlled by the private sector, not the government, and “the vast majority of supply chain issues originate with private sector decisions like workforce conditions, local shipping-related laws like empty container storage, and global economic conditions beyond any one party’s control,” Tomer said.
“Whether $2.5 billion or $600 million, MARAD funding alone can’t do much to solve shipping issues at this scale,” he said.
The newest version of the bill also cuts to $300 million what had been a $1 billion competitive grant program to encourage the development of sustainable aviation fuel. And it eliminates the $6 billion allotted for member priorities, known as earmarks.
Jeff Davis of the Eno Center for Transportation found differences as well in programs for tribal transportation, a clearinghouse of information on autonomous vehicles and climate-resilient infrastructure.
Changes Davis identified included:
- Elimination of $1 billion for the Federal Highway Administration’s Tribal Transportation program.
- A $50 million reduction to the $100 million allotted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Clearinghouse.
- Elimination of $8 million to create a clearinghouse for information on autonomous vehicles and mobility innovation.
- Elimination of $100 million for the U.S. Maritime Administration’s innovation and climate resilience program.
- A reduction to $650 million from the $1 billion for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Climate Resilient Infrastructure program.
- Addition of $50 million for environmental review implementation.
- Creation of a $900 million program for low-carbon transportation materials.
Transit was thought to be one of the more controversial items in the transportation section of the bill, with Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, writing a letter to Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio to protest the additional funding.