What we're watching: Senate Commerce Committee to mark up six-year transportation bill today

Later today the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is scheduled to mark up the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015 (S. 1732), a proposed six-year transportation reauthorization. As we’ve mentioned here before, the federal transportation bill has huge implications for development across the country. Here’s what we’ll be looking for during today’s proceedings.

The bill currently includes legislation that supports and expands opportunities for transit-oriented development (TOD). The bipartisan Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act (S. 1626) would expand the capabilities of the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Act, a $30 billion loan program to provide needed financing for transit-oriented development projects and infrastructure near passenger rail stations. This provision also includes provisions to improve rail safety and enhance existing rail infrastructure. These provisions are a big deal: previous transportation bills have not included a rail title, and it’s noteworthy that this bill would include both rail and surface transportation. We’re looking for S. 1626 to remain included in the final bill.

In addition, an amendment to the bill would include components of the Safe Streets Act, originally introduced in the Senate in 2014. The provision would require states and metropolitan planning organizations to adopt Complete Streets policies for federally funded projects. We’re looking for the Safe Streets amendment to be adopted in the final bill.

Finally, the bill would dramatically alter the U.S. Department of Transportation’s highly successful Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. As written, the bill would refocus TIGER funding towards a new multimodal grant program exclusive to freight infrastructure. Hundreds of communities have used TIGER grants to catalyze local transportation investments and safety improvements. We’re looking to see the TIGER program retain its competitive, multimodal mission in the final bill.

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Ultimately the Senate Commerce Committee’s bill will be combined with bills from the Environment and Public Works and Banking committees. The final resolution could come to the floor for consideration by the full Senate as early as this week. The House of Representatives is also currently considering its strategy for transportation. No word on when the two chambers will come together on a final resolution.