Senate Approves Transportation Projects for Delaware

WASHINGTON: The Senate on Thursday approved a $90 billion transportation appropriations bill, which includes several projects for Delaware and funding for Amtrak. The Senate bill, which passed on a 91-3 vote, now must be reconciled with a competing House measure sometime in the next few weeks. Among those provisions in the bill important to Delaware is a $1.346 billion allocation for Amtrak’s fiscal 2004 budget. Delaware Senators Joe Biden and Tom Carper agreed that the Amtrak budget would not allow the national railway to make all the necessary capital improvements or investments many think are needed, but both said the allocation was far better than the $900 million budget approved by the House earlier this summer and requested by the Bush administration in its fiscal 2004 budget proposal. Biden and Carper said they would fight to keep the Senate funding level in the final version of the fiscal 2004 transportation bill coming out of a House-Senate conference committee. “These are tight times, but we can not ignore our basic obligations to our infrastructure, highways and transportation services,” said Senator Biden. “We are always fighting an uphill battle to get Amtrak what it needs to operate. Without a consistent funding source, Amtrak simply cannot provide us with a reliable and efficient national passenger rail system. Its as simple as that.” “Amtrak can’t operate under the level approved by the House,” said Carper. “But the Senate bill, while not the best-case scenario, will at least give Amtrak the bulk of the tools it needs to keep operations up and running and to make some investments in its infrastructure.” The bill, which funds the Transportation and Treasury departments, as well as other administration offices and the U.S. Postal Service, also includes funds for a host of Delaware-specific projects. Among the projects approved under the bill: $3 million to upgrade capacity of the Northeast Corridor between Wilmington and Newark by eliminating a “choke point” that limits the number of commuter trains that can travel between the two stations. The infrastructure upgrades will permit more commuter rail roundtrips and increase both rail and highway safety by separating commuter and high-speed passenger rail service within the Corridor. $2.5 million to continue the rehabilitation of the Wilmington Train Station, which needs improvements to support the projected growth of commuter rail ridership over the next 15 years. $4 million to replace the Indian River Inlet Bridget on State Route 1 in Sussex County. The funds are for preliminary engineering, design and construction services. $750,000 for the Jobs Access and Reverse Commute Grant Program, a component of Delaware’s Welfare to Work Initiative. The program helps welfare recipients and unemployed people get to work through non-traditional public transportation services, such as vanpools, reverse commute routes and employee shuttles that run on nontraditional work schedules. $1 million to reconfigure the interchange at I-95 and State Route 1 in Newark to address increased capacity and safety issues. The funds will be used for conceptual planning of the project. $2.5 million for the University of Delaware Fuel Cell Bus Project. The university is seeking to develop new fuel-cell-powered busses as part of a larger project to replace and augment older conventional buses used in the university’s transit system. $2 million for the Intermodal Transportation Facility at the University of Delaware. The facility, which will operate in conjunction with the new Center for the Arts at the Newark campus, has been designed to ease congestion by serving a variety of different forms of transportation on campus, including cars, buses and bicycles. $250,000 to support the University of Delaware’s Center for Innovative Bridge Engineering, which helps highway and railroad bridge owners with design, construction and maintenance challenges.