DOT Budget Includes New Infrastructure Bank, Transit Safety Oversight

A new national infrastructure bank and new federal safety oversight authority for rail transit were two highlights of President Obama's proposed budget for the Department of Transportation.

The DOT budget, which was unveiled this week, includes $4 billion to create a National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund (NIIFF). That earmark will go toward grants and loans in support of projects that provide a significant economic benefit to the nation or a region in recognition that transportation infrastructure can be an engine for economic growth. 

Established as a new operational unit within DOT, the fund will directly provide resources for projects through grants and loans (or a blend of both), and leverage non-federal resources, including private capital.

The budget also places a strong emphasis on transit safety by including $30 million and up to 260 positions to support the Obama Administration's Public Transportation Safety Program Act of 2009. That act was proposed to Congress last year to ensure a high and standard level of safety across all transit systems.   

Unlike other transport modes, closed system rail transit services are not overseen by federal safety regulators but rather are subject to review by a patchwork of state safety organizations, DOT said. "Recent deadly accidents in Washington, D.C., Boston and San Francisco underscore the need for common nationwide safety standards and for federal enforcement of these standards," the department noted. The budget includes $30 million for a new transit safety enforcement oversight program within the Federal Transit Administration to enable FTA to staff up and implement a broad safety oversight strategy as proposed in legislation.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said President Obama's $79 billion DOT budget continues strong levels of investment for safety, the department's top priority, along with critical investments for infrastructure to generate economic growth and support livable communities. 

"President Obama's budget builds on an historic first year for this Department of Transportation," said Secretary LaHood.  "In addition to making critical investments in our nation's infrastructure, we jump-started high-speed rail across America, launched a campaign against distracted driving and proposed landmark transit safety legislation. This budget reflects our priorities and values by continuing to invest in safety, livable communities and an improved national transportation system."