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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I seek recognition to clarify a provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It is my view that our national transportation policy should promote a balance between the highway and rail freight shipment modes. In promoting this concept of modal balance, I have particular interest in the well-being of the 500 short lines and regional railroads of America. I am advised that these railroads operate 50,000 miles of line, nearly 20 percent of the entire system. They connect communities and entire rural regions of the country to the mainline rail network. These carriers provide essential economic and environmental benefits primarily in rural regions of the country, including those in my State.
Pennsylvania has 54 small railroads that operate over 3,000 miles of line. It is estimated that if these railroads are abandoned, Pennsylvania highway users would sustain additional pavement damage of $87 million annually. This alone, in addition to the documented environmental and congestion relief benefits of freight rail, is a notable public benefit to highway users. In 2007, Congress enacted Public Law 110-140, the Energy Act of 2007, and chapter 223 created a new program of capital grants to class II and III railroads to preserve this essential service. I believe that this provides an authorization and public interest justification for funding small rail projects with stimulus appropriations.
There are two programs within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that are of particular applicability. They are both adopted from the Senate version of the bill. First, the Senate bill included a $5.5 billion discretionary program that could be used for highway, transit, as well as freight and passenger rail projects. The conference report funds this at $1.5 billion. There is a threshold that the projects must be between $20 million and $500 million. I am informed that this is too high a threshold for most short line rail projects. Fortunately, the conference report stipulates that the Secretary may waive the requirement for smaller cities and regions. It is my understanding that these investments may include short-line railroad projects that meet public benefit tests such as those stipulated in the Energy Act of 2007 and provide a benefit to highway users. Second, the conference report includes $27.5 billion for highways and surface transportation infrastructure. The conference report explicitly states that grants may be for passenger and freight rail transportation projects. The flexibility criteria states that a project must be eligible under Section 133 of title 23 601(a)(8) which reads in part ``for a public freight rail facility or a private facility providing public benefit for highway users.'' My understanding is that short line rail projects that ``provide a benefit to highway users'' are be eligible for this funding.
I would ask the distinguished chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee if I am correct in my understanding that the Secretary may waive the $20 million minimum requirement under the discretionary grant program and that short line and other freight rail projects that provide a benefit to highway users are eligible under the $27.5 billion highway infrastructure investment.
Mrs. MURRAY. Mr. President, yes, the Senator from Pennsylvania's understanding is correct. The conference report does give the Secretary of Transportation authority to waive the minimum grant size under the discretionary grant program for the purpose of funding significant projects in smaller cities, regions or States. Additionally, funds provided for investment in highway infrastructure maybe be used for passenger and freight rail transportation and port infrastructure projects.
Mr. SPECTER. I thank the Chairman.
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