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Senate Strips High-Speed Rail Funding

8:55 AM PDT on September 21, 2011

The Senate's transportation budget proposal is still under wraps, but we're getting some clues about what's in it.

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This morning, a subcommittee marked up the transportation and HUD appropriations bill, and the full committee will consider it tomorrow afternoon. Only after that will the draft bill be released.

During this morning's subcommittee markup, though, a few senators divulged a few key points. For example, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said he was " discouraged by the elimination of high-speed rail grants" in the budget. "It's a casualty of the cuts mandated in the debt-limit deal," he said.

Despite his strong push last winter for high-speed rail service that would reach 80 percent of the U.S. population in 25 years, President Obama has been willing to sacrifice high-speed rail funding in tense budget fights with Republicans. The Senate seems to be following suit.

However, funding for Amtrak is untouched in the Senate budget bill, foreshadowing a pitched battle once the Senate and House have to reconcile their two budget bills. The House made devastating cuts to Amtrak in its version.

And Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) emphasized that TIGER grants are "an important part of the transportation equation" and indicated that they were still in the bill. Through other channels, we hear that TIGER is being funded at $550 million, which is slightly higher than the $527 million allocation it has now. The House 2012 budget proposal would have eliminated the program completely.

Smart Growth America sounded the alarm yesterday that the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (a collaboration among USDOT, EPA and HUD) could be on the ropes. From what we hear, there is some money for HUD grants for livable and sustainable communities.

Amendments can be offered at tomorrow's full committee markup, so anything can change.

Jeff Davis of Transportation Weekly reports that the Senate bill maintains current funding levels for highways and transit ($41.1 billion and $8.3 billion, respectively). It also has an extra $1.5 billion in emergency relief highway funding, which is "exempt from the $55.25 billion ceiling given to the THUD bill and subject instead to a separate annual emergency ceiling under the Budget Control Act," the deal that ended the standoff over the debt ceiling.

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