WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, joined his colleagues on the Committee Thursday to approve the FY15 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill, which supports key transportation and affordable housing programs in Delaware. The bill will now move to the Senate floor for consideration.
"Just this week, the critical I-495 bridge over the Christina River in Wilmington, which carries more than 90,000 drivers every day, was closed indefinitely," Senator Coons said. "This closure is hurting businesses and families in Delaware - and it's just one in a string of recent emergencies that demonstrate the urgent need for investment in our infrastructure. We can't afford to neglect the vital roads, bridges, and transit systems we depend on every day. This funding bill takes important steps forward to address our national infrastructure needs, including investments in key projects and services in Delaware. I hope my colleagues in the Senate will come together in the coming months to pass this critical bill and take action to tackle our nation's mounting infrastructure debt.
"This bill also makes important investments to help veterans and low-income families secure fair, affordable housing and improve the quality of life in our communities. I was proud to fight against damaging cuts to the Community Development Block Grant Program - one of HUD's longest running and most successful programs - which has helped to revitalize low-income communities across Delaware."
Throughout the appropriations process, including during Subcommittee negotiations, Senator Coons has fought for a number of Delaware priorities that were included in the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee this week. They are highlighted below:
Senator Coons fought to ensure sustained funding for Amtrak so it can begin addressing the nearly $6 billion backlog in needed infrastructure upgrades. The bill includes $1.39 billion, level with FY14 appropriations, that will allow Amtrak to continue serving its rapidly growing clientele and address crucial capital investment needs. Many of the Northeast Corridor's bridges and tunnels are now over a century old, and the average age of Amtrak's equipment fleet is the oldest in the company's history. In the future, we will need to do more to invest in Amtrak and meet our growing national infrastructure debt. This funding will also allow Amtrak to continue to implement critical safety measures for all passengers and help make their stations and services more accessible to passengers with disabilities.
Senator Coons advocated for language, included in the Committee report, highlighting the damage to and closure of the I-495 bridge over the Christina River in Delaware as one of several recent transportation emergencies facing the nation, and recognizing the importance of the Federal Highway Administration's Emergency Relief (ER) program in bringing these bridges and roads back into service as quickly and safely as possible. Delaware received $2 million from the ER program this week to assess damages and begin emergency repairs to the I-495 bridge.
Federal Highway Administration
Senator Coons fought to ensure sustained funding for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which will allow the FHWA to make critical safety and performance improvements to the national highway system, while creating jobs that build and maintain our infrastructure. The THUD bill will provide $149 million in formula funding for Delaware highway maintenance projects.
National Infrastructure Investments
Senator Coons successfully fought against major cuts to the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, securing $550 million for the program this year. The TIGER grants program helps state and local governments pay for new highways and bridges, public transit projects, railways, and port infrastructure, and is critical to addressing the deteriorating state of the U.S. transportation system. The Port of Wilmington recently received a $10 million TIGER grant to help renovate two cargo berths dating back to 1922. Demand for TIGER grants across the country is dramatically outpacing available funds - in FY13, requests totaled approximately $9 billion, nearly 20 times the $474 million set aside for the program.
Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act
Senator Coons fought to ensure sustained funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, which provides loans, loan guarantees, and federal credit assistance to facilitate national and regional transportation projects that would otherwise go unfunded. A range of transportation projects are eligible for TIFIA funding, including highways, transit, rail, intermodal freight, and port infrastructure. TIFIA funding is currently supporting work to reduce congestion on U.S. 301 in Delaware.
Federal Transit Administration
Senator Coons secured an additional $310 million in funding for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which will help states fund important transit improvement projects and address our nation's growing infrastructure backlog. FTA funds provide critical support for DART bus and transit service and SEPTA regional rail service in Delaware. The THUD bill also includes language encouraging the Federal Transit Administration to define and share best practices for resiliency planning for extreme weather events, an important issue for Delaware and other low-lying coastal states.
Airport Improvement Program
Senator Coons fought against cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and secured an additional $130 million for the program over FY14 appropriations. This funding is critical to the Sussex County Airport, which has received nearly $4 million in grants through AIP since FY12, allowing the airport to expand its runway and enhance critical infrastructure to improve safety.
In response to increasing crude oil production and transportation in the U.S., the bill includes a multi-faceted initiative focused on crude-by-rail safety. This is an important priority for Delaware to ensure the state's continued strong safety record in the transport and delivery of crude and other hazardous materials. The bill includes funding for 20 new DOT rail and hazardous materials inspectors, as well as 45 existing rail safety positions, and adds $3 million to expand automated track inspections to ensure proper maintenance of crude oil routes. The bill also includes provisions to create a short-line safety institute, improve classification of flammable liquids, and extend training for first responders. In April, Senator Coons signed a letter to Senate THUD leadership urging creation of a new Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund as well as investments to increase inspection personnel.
Senator Coons fought against significant cuts to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program in the President's proposed budget, securing $3.02 billion for the program. CDBG housing projects have assisted more than 1.1 million households since 2005, providing financial assistance to new homeowners and rehabilitation assistance to the elderly and other existing homeowners. The program has also helped to create and retain more than 330,000 jobs for low- and moderate-income persons through a variety of economic development activities. CDBG has faced $920 million in cuts since 2010, forcing communities supported by the program to dramatically shrink or discontinue projects for vulnerable community members. Program funds assisted more than 225 Delaware families in 2013.
Senator Coons fought to boost funding for the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP), and the Committee provided an increase of $500 million over FY14 levels. FHIP is the primary source of funding for fair housing education and enforcement activities at the local level. The Community Legal Aid Society in Wilmington received more than $300,000 from the program in FY13 and uses its grant to reduce instances of housing discrimination in Delaware through increased enforcement efforts.
The bill includes sustained funding of $75 million for the HUD-Veterans Administration Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. The HUD-VASH program is a collaborative effort between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs that assists homeless veterans in obtaining and maintaining housing. The program has helped reduce homelessness among veterans by 24 percent since 2010 and served approximately 120 Delaware veterans since 2008.
Read this original document at: http://www.coons.senate.gov/newsroom/releases/release/senator-coons-infrastructure-housing-priorities-included-in-appropriations-bill