Harlem’s Rep. Adriano Espaillat Secures Multiple Wins In Critical House Transportation Bill

June 22, 2020

Today, Rep. Adriano Espaillat hailed the passage in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the Investing a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act.

The Act is a five-year bill to improve and increase federal investment in transportation infrastructure programs. In addition to including major increases for highway, transit and rail projects, the bill also addressed a number of Rep. Espaillat’s priorities and included many of his own proposals.

“I am proud to support and vote in favor of the INVEST in America Act and am grateful to my colleagues and Chairman Peter DeFazio for including so many of my proposals in the bill,” said Rep. Espaillat. “I applaud the chairman for advancing a landmark bill that not only provides increased funding levels for public transportation services across New York, but also makes significant strides toward improving safety on our roads, reducing congestion in our neighborhoods, improving the quality of our air and curbing carbon emissions to address climate change. The bill will also ensure important projects like the Second Avenue Subway move forward and will encourage other cities to follow New York City’s lead in implementing the first-in-the-nation congestion pricing plan.

“While the INVEST in America Act provides welcome new resources to help renew and modernize the infrastructure of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and other transit systems statewide, the current antiquated formulas in which federal funds are apportioned do not recognize the extent and utilization of New York’s unparalleled public transportation network. The use of these outdated formulas over the past three decades has accelerated the precipitous decline in New York’s share of the overall federal investment in transit. As the only New York City member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I will continue to work with my colleagues in the New York delegation and beyond to ensure distribution of federal transportation funding recognizes the needs of New York and the impact that MTA’s services and capital projects have on our nation’s global competitiveness.”

The INVEST in America Act incorporates Rep. Espaillat’s Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act in its entirety. His proposal would make improvements to a federal program that funds a variety of small-scale community transportation projects other than traditional highway construction, such as improving pedestrian safety and access to transit, constructing bicycle facilities and infrastructure, environmental mitigation, and more. Specifically, the bill increases funding for these projects and ensures more money is made available for local governments and agencies to fund and implement these projects. Additionally, components of Rep. Espaillat’sSafe and Friendly for the Environment (SAFE) Streets Act and Complete Streets Act were included in the bill. Both proposals make significant reforms to ensure our streets are safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and promote holistic approaches to street design that focuses on the needs and safety of all users rather than prioritizing vehicles.

In addition to these proposals, Espaillat was able to gain assurances that the committee’s report to accompany the INVEST in America Act would include directives to the Trump Administration to advance New York City’s congestion pricing proposal. For months, the U.S. Department of Transportation has dithered on the project, falsely claiming that a lack of clarity in federal law must be sorted out prior to allowing the project to proceed to an environmental study. During the bill’s mark-up, Espaillat cited evidence of language in federal transportation policy that calls the administration’s bluff.

Rep. Espaillat also offered a number of amendments that were incorporated into the bill.

One of these will establish an Office of Community Outreach at Amtrak and requires a report to Congress on the new office’s activities. The amendment is intended to make Amtrak a better community partner and neighbor. Last year, communities in Northern Manhattan were shocked to learn that Amtrak planned to install an unsightly electronic billboard on land it owns along its track flanking the scenic Hudson River. Due to an exemption in federal statute, Amtrak does not need to follow any local land-use rules or procedures for community engagement when determining how to use its land. This amendment would foster better cooperation between Amtrak and the communities where it operates, not only in this situation but in many other similar ones throughout the country.

Another amendment approved clarifies the definition of an electric bicycle in federal law. Incorporating priorities of both bicycle manufacturers and bike and pedestrian safety advocates, the new definition will provide certainty and flexibility to local governments while ensuring other types of motor vehicles that cannot safely share the same space with traditional bicycles are not included in the definition.

Espaillat also secured a win for transit agencies like the MTA by clarifying that costs associated with upgrading and modernizing fare collection systems, particularly contactless and mobile phone payment systems like those being deployed in New York, are an eligible expense with federal transit dollars. Contactless and mobile fare purchasing systems could save transit agencies millions of dollars in overhead costs, more than worthy of federal investment. The amendment also ensures individuals who are unbanked and underbanked are not left out as these new technologies are implemented.

Another of Rep. Espaillat’s amendment incorporated into the bill requires the use of U.S. Employment Plans in rolling stock procurement and was supported by Jobs to Move America, the Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and the Transport Workers Union of America. U.S. Employment Plans are a policy tool that provide state- and city-level transportation and transit agencies with a method for incentivizing bidders on purchases of manufactured equipment to include job-creation and inclusive hiring commitments in their bid documents. Versions of this procurement tool have been used by the MTA, Amtrak, and other agencies with great success. Requiring RFPs funded with federal transit dollars to include these plans will ensure more quality, inclusive and equitable US-based employment in this important sector.

Finally, Rep. Espaillat secured passage of an amendment that restores important discounts and incentives to those who drive cleaner hybrid and fully electric vehicles. Until recently, local tolling authorities had the ability to allow low-emission vehicles with a single occupant to ride in High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, and in some cases to do so at a discount or free of charge. While we have made much progress in bringing more electric and hybrid-electric vehicles on the road, in many parts of the country, this incentive would still be beneficial for the goal of encouraging wider usage of these cleaner vehicles. Rep. Espaillat’s amendment would extend the ability for state authorities to provide these incentives for another five years.

The INVEST in America Act is slated to be considered in the full House of Representatives in early July and is expected to pass including many of these important contributions crafted and offered by Rep. Espaillat.

First elected to Congress in 2016, Rep. Adriano Espaillat is serving his second term in Congress where he serves as a member of the influential U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the House Small Business Committee.  He serves as a Senior Whip of the House Democratic Caucus and is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) where he also serves in a leadership role as CHC Whip. He is also chairman of the CHC Task Force for Transportation, Infrastructure and Housing. Rep. Espaillat’s Congressional District includes Harlem, East Harlem, northern Manhattan and the north-west Bronx.  To find out more about Rep. Espaillat, visit online at https://espaillat.house.gov/.

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