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In an address to the nation, the transportation leader in the U.S. House of Representatives emphasized the critical role of commercial drivers during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need to make sure truck drivers and airplanes can move the cargo that so many people need right now, from prescriptions, to toiletries, to food and critical medical supplies and canned goods,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said March 20, during the weekly address from House Democrats.
“We will get through this pandemic stronger than ever. I am committed to making sure we keep our country running in the short-term and to position ourselves for a strong and speedy recovery fueled by the investments we need to build a 21st century transportation system and provide millions of jobs,” DeFazio added.
To that end, expedited access to federal grants and emergency aid specific for businesses grappling with the pandemic needs to be prioritized, DeFazio and Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee Chairwoman Dina Titus (D-Nev.) emphasized days prior to DeFazio’s address.
The pair called on the Economic Development Administration (EDA) at the Commerce Department to respond promptly to communities seeking assistance for various sectors, such as commercial and commuter transportation. The agency’s focus is to facilitate regional economic development nationwide.
“Our American citizens are bravely facing the challenges of this pandemic and responsibly protecting themselves and each other by following the directions of public health authorities and staying home,” the lawmakers wrote to Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fleming on March 18. “We ask that you increase the federal share of grants given in response to COVID-19 to the maximum allowable amount. In addition to these measures, we encourage EDA to provide greater flexibility to existing grantees who are impacted by COVID-19-related staffing issues.” COVID-19 is the disease resulting from the coronavirus.
Earlier this month, the agency awarded a $1.5 million grant to Springdale, Ark., meant to assist local businesses through the improvement of roadway infrastructure. The project targeted commercial traffic, and will be matched with $1 million in local funding. About 125 jobs would be created or retained, and $14.6 million in private investment would be generated, according to EDA.
“President [Donald] Trump understands that reliable and modern infrastructure is fundamental to business development and success,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on March 5. “The project will widen Kendrick Avenue and connect it to Highway 265, which will allow for expedited business growth.”
“EDA is pleased to support Springdale’s strategy to enhance the roads and create access to a major state thoroughfare,” added Fleming. Prior to that grant, the agency awarded $2.2 million to the Concho Valley Council of Governments in San Angelo, Texas, for a new office building.
“This investment will move CVCOG’s headquarters to a more resilient location, which will allow for critical emergency and recovery operations,” Fleming said March 3.
Outside of Capitol Hill, stakeholders also are calling on federal leaders for financial assistance. Airline executives indicated the need for about $50 billion to help stabilize their industry amid an economic turmoil triggered by the pandemic. The Transportation Alliance, the American Bus Association, the National Limousine Association, the Global Business Travel Association, the United Motorcoach Association, the Airport Ground Transportation Association and the Near Airport Parking Industry Trade Association collectively asked the White House for $12 billion for infrastructure priorities.
“With the federal government and states recommending that Americans severely restrict their movements, our industry has suffered immediate economic losses. The crisis threatens to shutter critical and essential public transportation operations forever,” the group wrote to Trump on March 18. “Our members are reporting staggering loss projections of up to 95% now — precipitous declines that are expected to extend well into the months ahead.”
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