July 27, 2017 3:45 PM, EDT

Infrastructure Grants, Weight Waivers Approved in Senate Fiscal 2018 Transportation Bill

Susan Collins Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

A U.S. Department of Transportation grants program popular with members of Congress would receive $550 million in fiscal 2018 under legislation Senate appropriators easily approved July 27.

The Appropriations Committee reported its fiscal 2018 transportation bill, as amended, 31-0. It heads to the Senate floor for consideration as early as September.

Appropriators agreed to an increase for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) infrastructure grants of $50 million. A fiscal 2017 funding law provided $500 million for the grants, which matched fiscal 2016 enacted levels.

The senators rejected the Trump administration’s push to deny funding for the grants.

“Our bill strikes the right balance between thoughtful investment and fiscal restraint, thereby setting the stage for future economic growth,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. The move to increase funding for the Obama-era TIGER grants and safety programs at DOT drew bipartisan praise.

“[The bill] funds TIGER grants, a program that was proposed for elimination by President Trump but has a proven track record of supporting successful and innovative projects,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member on the Appropriations Committee.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had told appropriators the administration would revise the grants program under an infrastructure funding proposal that might be unveiled by the end of the year. Earlier in July, House appropriators approved a funding bill that complied with the administration’s request to deny funding for TIGER.

Since 2009, transportation officials from across the country have applauded the TIGER grants for boosting funding for more than 400 projects. Freight connectivity projects have been awarded the grants.

Before adjourning, senators easily adopted proposals in the funding bill that would allow certain trucks in North Dakota to operate at a weight of up to 129,000 pounds and certain trucks in New Hampshire to operate along certain locations at a weight of up to 99,000 pounds. The proposals were sponsored by Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), respectively.

“I-29 is one of the major interstates coming down from Winnipeg, which I think it’s more than a million people just in their metro, coming down I-29. And, of course, then all of the product that goes north that we export, as well,” Hoeven noted.

Overall, the bill would provide $19.4 billion in discretionary funding for DOT, which would be $978 million above the fiscal 2017 enacted level, and it would authorize $45 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be used for highway maintenance and construction programs.

The legislation also would provide $908.6 million for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, $744.8 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and $272 million for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. It also would reject a proposal by the White House and House Republicans to privatize the air traffic control system.