Norton Gets Major Priorities Included in Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill; Passes Amendment to Provide Federal Oversight over WMATA

WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 22, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), ranking member of the House Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, announced that her major legislative priorities for the District of Columbia and the nation, including her amendment to implement direct federal safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) Metrorail, were included in the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRR), which passed the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today.  In addition, Norton got in the bill her other important priorities—including increased safety for bus and rail systems; funding for workforce development; small-business contract opportunities for minorities and women; new pilot funding projects for the rapidly deteriorating Highway Trust Fund; increased funding for National Park Service (NPS) roads to help rebuild Arlington Memorial Bridge; protections for bus and rail operators from assault; and increased restroom breaks for bus and transit operators.

Norton, who was one of the “Big Four” (chairs and ranking members of the full committee and subcommittee), said, “I appreciated working with Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) to achieve the first six-year or long-term surface transportation bill in ten years.  While today’s markup went smoothly, the bill’s funding, which is basically at the same levels as 2004, can hardly begin the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure, which has become so urgent.  The most important aspect of the bill is the six-year authorization, because states had begun to stash their money without spending it due to repetitive short-term reauthorizations that provided them with no certainty.  Letting major projects pile up may be penny wise, but it is pound foolish, because it means at some point the federal and state governments will have to, at some point, inject massive amounts of funding to keep the country’s infrastructure from becoming uncompetitive with the rising amounts we are seeing invested in infrastructure around the world.”

Summary of Norton Priorities Included in STRR

Immediate Federal Oversight of WMATA

An emergency recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board convinced Norton action had to be taken immediately to direct federal safety oversight of WMATA Metrorail.

Increased Safety for Bus and Rail Systems

STRR clarifies that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) can set minimum safety standards for transit systems, requires a safety review on emergency preparedness, design, maintenance and inspections of critical systems, and includes certification requirements for train and bus operators.

Workforce Development

With the pending retirement of baby-boomer transit workers, Norton focused on filling the workforce skills gap and creating career pathways for jobs for underrepresented populations, including minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, veterans, low-income populations, as well as other Americans.  The bill also includes 21st century training on safety, security, emergency preparedness, and communication during emergencies.

Increased Opportunities for Minorities and Women

To make up for decades of exclusion in the construction industry, Norton, a former chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, worked to ensure that the STRR set a goal of 10 percent of DOT contracts to Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, which are small businesses at least 51% unconditionally owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, who include, for the purposes of this program, women, Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific Americans, and Subcontinent Asian Americans.

New Funding Sources for Highway Trust Fund

Norton has been a strong critic of the gas tax as the sole funding source of the Highway Trust Fund, considering energy conservation and high-fuel efficiency vehicles have significantly reduced the available funds.  Because the federal government has done so little to address this shortfall, Norton got $20 million for a program called the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives, which allow states to experiment with pilot funding projects, such as using a “road user charge” (RUC) based on vehicle mileage rather than the traditional gas tax.  She will try to get her committee to bring the best of the funding methods carried out in the states to the federal level.

Increased Funding to Help Rebuild Arlington Memorial Bridge and Other Construction Projects on NPS Lands

Norton got the Federal Lands Transportation Program an annual increase of $100 million in federal funding from $300 million to $400 million a year for fiscal years 2016-2021.  This increased funding will help rebuild Arlington Memorial Bridge, for which NPS was forced to implement emergency lane closures and weight restrictions.  This authorization is particularly important to the District because of the abundance of NPS roads here.

Protecting Bus and Rail Operators on WMATA and Other Systems from Assault

Norton insisted on tougher safety standards for transit systems that will now require FTA to craft new rules, such as installing protective barriers, purchasing buses with driver-side doors, installing security cameras with a live feed to TV screens on the bus, and adding law enforcement officers to routes.

Restroom Breaks for Bus and Transit Operators

When Norton learned the health consequences for transit bus drivers who often have no restroom breaks or access to restroom facilities, she wrote to Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Thomas Perez calling on DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate workplace protections for transit workers, particularly bus drivers, who have complained of inadequate access to restrooms.  Without restroom breaks, drivers have been found to suffer urinary tract infections, dehydration, fatigue, and similar conditions.  The bill requires FTA to study the issue of restroom breaks for transit rail and bus drivers and, based on the study’s results, to draft rules to address the issue.

Other Priorities

Other Norton priorities in the bill include: an increase from 60% to 70% requiring buying from American-made manufacturers, added flexibility for states to address the large number of deficient bridges, and a well-regulated extension of the Positive Train Control mandate.

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