Senate Panel to Vote on Nominations, TOD Bill Next Week

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has scheduled a November 13 markup session (10:00 a.m., G-50 Dirksen) with a lengthy list of agenda items. Most of it is not related to transportation, but four agenda items are:

NTSB nominee. The panel will vote on the nomination of Michael Graham to fill the unexpired National Transportation Safety Board seat of Earl Weener (who retired early, before his term runs out on December 31, 2020) as well as a full five-year term to start on January 1, 2021. The nominee for the fifth and final NTSB seat, Thomas Chapman, is more recent and his name was only sent to the Senate three weeks ago.

FMC nominee. The committee will vote on the nomination of Carl Bentzel to fill a seat on the Federal Maritime Commission. Bentzel served on the Commerce Committee staff from 1994-2004.

Amtrak Board nominee. There are four Trump Administration nominees for the Amtrak Board of Directors. Three have already been approved in committee and are stuck in limbo on the Senate Executive Calendar; the fourth, former Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IL) will join them in that limbo if approved by the committee next week. Amtrak is unusual – federal law (49 U.S.C. §24302) provides that its Board have ten members – the Secretary of Transportation, the Amtrak CEO (who is a non-voting member), and eight other members nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, who are supposed to have some geographic diversity and of whom no more than five can be from the same political party.

The really odd thing about the Amtrak Board is that even though members serve fixed five-year terms, the law also provides that once a five-year term runs out, “Such term may be extended until the individual’s successor is appointed and qualified.” As it stands now, only one of the eight seats on the Board is filled with someone serving an actual five-year term (five of the current members are serving past their term’s expiration).

Current Members of the Amtrak Board of Directors
Member Tenure
Elaine Chao Statutory as SecDOT
Richard Anderson Stautory as Amtrak CEO (non-voting)
Christopher Beall Term expired Jan. 2018.
Yvonne Braithwaite Burke Term expired Jan. 2018.
Thomas C. Carper Term expired Aug. 2018.
Anthony Coscia Term expires Dec. 2020.
Albert DiClemente Term expired Sept. 2017. Nominee: Joseph Gruters
Jeffrey Moreland Term expired June 2015. Nominee: Rick Dearborn
vacancy (was Derek Kan) Term expires 1-3-2021. Nominee: Todd Rokita
vacancy Nominee: Lynn Westmoreland

Allowing RRIF loans for transit-oriented development. A new bill (S. 2805) sponsored by Commerce chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) would extend the expired authority for the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program to make loans for “transit-oriented development” around rail stations. The authority to make such loans expires next month. The bill also makes changes in the TOD eligibility language in the RRIF statute (shown below) to require that any TOD loan have at least 20 percent private investment, be within 1/2 mile of the rail station, have a certification that construction will commence within 90 days of the loan obligation, and demonstrate “the ability to generate new financial assistance for the relevant passenger rail station.”

(Since Sen. Duckworth is an original cosponsor of the bill, she may have something in mind for the Chicago Union Station area redevelopment.)

Text of section 502(b) of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976

(Text that would be repealed by S. 2805 is in strikethrough type and text that would be added by S. 2805 is in boldface type.)

(b) Eligible purposes

(1) In general

Direct loans and loan guarantees under this section shall be used to-

(A) acquire, improve, or rehabilitate intermodal or rail equipment or facilities, including track, components of track, bridges, yards, buildings, and shops, and costs related to these activities, including pre-construction costs;

(B) refinance outstanding debt incurred for the purposes described in subparagraph (A) or (C);

(C) develop or establish new intermodal or railroad facilities;

(D) reimburse planning and design expenses relating to activities described in subparagraph (A) or (C); or

(E) finance economic development, including commercial and residential development, and related infrastructure and activities, that-

(i) incorporates private investment of greater than 20 percent of total project costs;

(ii) is physically connected to, or functionally related to or is within ½ mile walking distance from, a passenger rail station or multimodal station that includes rail service;

(iii) has a high probability of the applicant commencing the contracting process for construction certification from the applicant that the contracting process for construction will commence not later than 90 days after the date on which the direct loan or loan guarantee is obligated for the project under this subchapter; and

(iv) has a high probability of reducing the need for financial assistance under any other Federal program demonstrates the ability to generate new financial assistance for the relevant passenger rail station or service by increasing ridership, tenant lease payments, or other activities that generate revenue exceeding costs.

(2) Operating expenses not eligible

Direct loans and loan guarantees under this section shall not be used for railroad operating expenses.

(3) Sunset

The Secretary may provide a direct loan or loan guarantee under this section for a project described in paragraph (1)(E) only during the 4-year period beginning on December 4, 2015 December 31, 2021.

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