House Rep introduces bill to expand TIFIA

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson introduced a bill to extend the popular TIFIA infrastructure loan programme through 2016. The bill would also increase annual funding for TIFIA from $122m to $285m, enabling the Department of Transportation to dramatically increase the amount of loans it is able to make through the programme.

A bill is on the table in the US House of Representatives that would extend and increase funding for an oversubscribed infrastructure loan programme. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat from Texas, introduced a bill on 19 January to extend the popular TIFIA loan programme through 2016. 

TIFIA, or the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998, established low-cost, long-term loans for highway, rail, transit and other transportation projects.  Interest in the TIFIA loan programme has shot up over the past year, with 39 projects requesting $12.5 billion in loans in 2010.  Only four projects were awarded loans, which totaled around $1.3 billion. 

There is no other way to get these projects done. Some of the projects have begun and can't go further 

Eddie Bernice Johnson

“You know, every state is having a financial problem but it doesn’t stop the deterioration and the need for transportation infrastructure,” Johnson said in an interview with Infrastructure Investor. TIFIA loans could be a “remedy” to some of those unmet transportation funding needs, Johnson added.  

If passed, Johnson’s bill would more than double funding for TIFIA loans.  The bill allocates $285 million to the Department of Transportation for TIFIA loans for fiscal years 2012 to 2016, more than doubling the department’s current $122 million funding level for the loans. 

Each federal dollar can create “up to $10 in TIFIA credit assistance – and leverage $30 in transportation infrastructure investment,” according to the TIFIA programme website. Based on those metrics, an allocation of $285 million could enable $2.85 billion of loans a year and $8.5 billion of total investment.

Eddie Bernice Johnson

Johnson, who has served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since 1993, said it was too early to tell how the new Republican-controlled House would handle the transportation agenda.  She said that the Committee has not yet met for anything other than administrative business. 

The Committee’s former chair, Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar, lost his seat in November’s elections. Florida Republican John Mica took over Oberstar’s chairmanship last month.

Mica has said that he wants to pass a reauthorisation of the overall transportation and infrastructure funding bill sometime this year. The last transportation bill, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) expired in September 2009 and has been kept alive only by short-term extensions passed by Congress.

Johnson said that she was interested in using “whatever venue or avenue we can” to try to ensure an extension of TIFIA, including the SAFTEA-LU reauthorisation. “If that’s a vehicle we can use, we will try to use it,” she said.

In a statement on the White House website, President Barack Obama also said he would introduce a comprehensive six-year infrastructure funding plan in his budget, which is due in mid-February. 

When asked why she wanted to propose the TIFIA extension now, Johnson said:  “There is no other way to get these projects done. Some of the projects have begun and can’t go further”. She said that the extension could support both existing and new projects. 

Applications for the existing $122 million of TIFIA loan funds for the 2011 fiscal year became available on 25 January, according to a notice in the Federal Register.  Deadline for applications is 1 March.