What the stimulus bill means for transportation

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On Thursday, just a day after final passage in the House of a historic pandemic relief and stimulus bill, President Joe Biden signed it into law.

The bill includes billions for airlines, transit agencies and Amtrak to help with some deep losses suffered the past year.

On this week's edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Susan Howard, program director for transportation finance at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), talks about the transportation components of the bill.

Later, she offers her take on negotiations as the president stakes his presidency on adopting an ambitious infrastructure plan.

The stimulus bill will extend payroll support to airlines, helping to prevent layoffs of more than 27,000 workers when the current program expires at the end of March. It also would provide $8 billion in support to U.S. airports. Transit agencies across the country will see $30.5 billion in grants to help make up for dramatic losses in ridership. Amtrak would receive about $2 billion.

In a January report, the American Public Transit Association (APTA) said public transit ridership dropped by nearly 80 percent in April 2020 and remained more than 60 percent below 2019 levels through the rest of the year.

And these are essential workers who often cannot work remotely and rely on transit to get to their jobs.

Howard explains why the parameters of the stimulus bill confined the transportation funding to air, rail and transit services.

Now, attention turns to President Biden's hopes for what has eluded his predecessors in recent history: a truly comprehensive infrastructure bill. Howard echoes the analysis of others about how the fuel tax offers diminishing returns, especially as General Motors, Ford and other automakers stake their companies’ futures on electric vehicles.

Despite the cliché about how infrastructure enjoys bipartisan support, that ends when talk turns to funding and revenue. Will this time be different?

And can the president and his USDOT Sec. Pete Buttigieg come up with something that pleases labor leaders and environmentalists?

Writing in the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer argues that "in little-noticed ways, the rescue bill is going to reshape several areas of American climate policy."

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