Visclosky argues for transit grants as Congress begins budget work

NWI Times

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, testified before colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday in support of the grant program that would help fund the South Shore Line's major capital projects.

Congress is currently working on a fiscal year 2019 federal budget. The South Shore hopes grants for its projects will be included in it.

Visclosky testified at a meeting of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee in support of the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program.

The South Shore is applying for grants that would cover half the cost of the $665 million West Lake Corridor project and the $312 million Double Track NWI project.

In his prepared testimony, Visclosky noted the expansion of the CIG program in the recently completed 2018 budget, despite the Trump administration's proposal to phase it out.

"I thank you for your determination to push back against this proposal and end up with a fiscal year 2018 funding level of $2.6 billion, and with language that protects funding for projects in the pipeline," Visclosky told subcommittee members. "Because of your good work, communities across our nation can continue to plan and move forward with the FTA for projects that are in the early phases of development."

Visclosky said in his prepared testimony that the Trump administration's 2019 proposal continues to reflect its effort to phase out the CIG program by recommending funding of $1 billion, limited to projects that have already been awarded grants.

"I respectfully ask that you again flatly reject the inadequate funding level and inappropriate language restriction proposed in the (administration's) fiscal year 2019 budget request," Visclosky said.

He argued that public transit attracts residents and businesses, and the South Shore projects are a model effort at combining federal funds with a mix of local and state contributions.

"I want people to be able to look at Northwest Indiana and say this is how we garner bipartisan support from all levels of the community and the federal government, and this is how we create a return on public transit investments," Visclosky said. "This is how we attract new people, new businesses, and new jobs through public transportation infrastructure investments, and this is how we improve the lives of all current residents in a community and for future generations."

The Trump administration's recommendation to phase out the CIG program is included in the FTA's 2019 "Annual Report on Funding Recommendations."

"Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects," the report states, though it also notes the possibility of a new infrastructure policy that would be open to transit funding.

A normal federal budget process would produce appropriations bills in the summer in anticipation of completing a budget by Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year. In recent years, Congress has not been able to meet that schedule.