Durbin, Senate Democrats Introduce Bill to Save Public Infrastructure Projects Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and a group of Senate Democrats to introduce the Public Transit Capital Investment Relief Act of 2021. The legislation would provide relief for public transportation agencies through the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) Program by increasing the federal cost share of the total project cost for qualifying projects that are under construction or near completion. Durbin and Murray were joined by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Tina Smith (D-MN) in introducing the legislation. 

“We can’t let COVID-19 disrupt critical infrastructure projects underway in the United States. Our bill would increase federal funding commitments for transit projects, including the CTA’s Red and Purple Modernization Project in Chicago, so we can finish the work we’ve started and begin to build back better for the future,” Durbin said.  

As a project that signed a Full Funding Grant Agreement with Federal Transit Administration after January 1, 2017, the Red and Purple Modernization (RPM) Project would be eligible to request up to 30 percent of its total project cost of $2.2 billion from the Department of Transportation.  This bill could provide the RPM project as much as $600 million in additional federal funding.

The CIG program is a discretionary funding program for the construction and expansion of new and existing fixed-guideway public transit systems such as heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, streetcars, ferries, and certain corridor-based bus systems. Agencies applying to the CIG program work closely with FTA (Federal Transit Administration) through rigorous project development and engineering phases, after which the FTA decides whether to grant the project a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA).

CIG funded projects often are supported by other federal programs, but under current law—regardless of federal funding source—the maximum federal cost share is 80%. However, typical federal cost shares are much lower. A 2017 FTA report found that most projects receiving CIG funding had a federal cost share below 60% and for many projects that share was much less. The Public Transit Capital Investment Relief Act would allow public transit agencies with FFGAs signed on or after January 1, 2017 to opt-in to receive an additional 30% of total project costs. The maximum federal cost share would remain at 80% of the total project cost. The bill would also allow agencies to defer payment of non-Federal share project costs.

Funding from this legislation would only apply to projects already in the Full Funding Grant Agreement stage of CIG and would not cover anything in the engineering phase. 

While critical funding has been secured for transportation needs in previous COVID-19 relief packages, that funding has been limited primarily to operating expenses and formula programs are not designed to recognize growth, leaving agencies with projects in the CIG pipeline to consider canceling or delaying projects, which could result in millions of dollars in cost overruns and sunk costs. This would also stymy opportunities to provide new jobs in a period of historic unemployment.  

One pager on The Public Transit Capital Investment Relief Act here

PDF of the full bill text here