Getting relief

New COVID-19 emergency aid and a transportation secretary nominee are the big news of the month

Tim Bruns / December 23, 2020 / 3 minute read
Tim Bruns

As one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory draws to a close, the country’s attention is turned to the latest round of coronavirus (COVID-19) relief legislation, which as of this writing has just passed both chambers of Congress. 

The $900 billion COVID-19 relief package is part of a larger spending bill to fund the federal government for the new fiscal year. It includes direct payments of up to $600 per adult, as well as funding for enhanced jobless benefits, Paycheck Protection Program loans, rental assistance, and an extension of the eviction moratorium, according to CNN.

While any amount may be helpful at this point, some have questioned if this new relief bill will be enough for struggling Americans to provide for their basic needs through the winter. An analysis cited by The Washington Post estimates that nearly 12 million renters across the country will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by January. Rental assistance, direct payments, and jobless benefits combined may help for a short time, but eventually that money will run out. Will Congress once again take action and provide another relief package to benefit the hardest hit Americans when the time comes? The uncertainty regarding the future during this holiday season is leaving many to feel less than “merry and bright.”

The public transportation industry is expected to benefit from this latest relief package, as the legislation provides $14 billion of COVID-19 emergency funding for public transit and $1 billion for Amtrak, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). In addition, the bill provides annual appropriations of almost $13 billion for public transit, a $47 million increase from FY 2020.

“This $14 billion of desperately needed emergency transit funding is vital to the industry’s survival and is a much-needed immediate step in bolstering an industry ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic,” APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas said in a statement. 

As an association representing the public transportation industry, APTA says it will continue to advocate for additional emergency funding in the new year. The association says at least $32 billion is needed to serve essential public transit workers and to help communities recover.

State transportation agencies will see relief from this funding package as well, with $10 billion to be set aside in emergency aid for state DOTs. 

“Since the early response to the pandemic, state DOTs have faced severe losses in state transportation revenues as vehicle travel declined," Jim Tymon, AASHTO executive director, said in a statement. "This COVID relief bill enables state DOTs to stay on track and support the efficient movement of critical goods and services as they maintain their transportation systems.”

In other news, the transition team for the incoming Biden-Harris administration is continuing to select several key members for cabinet and staff positions. This includes last week’s big announcement that President-elect Biden will select former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation. 

Associations like APTA responded to the news with praise for Buttigieg, citing his work as mayor of South Bend that emphasized a complete streets approach and green transportation initiatives. APTA also pointed out that as a presidential candidate, Buttigieg’s proposed infrastructure plan centered on a Vision Zero policy and the need to address state-of-good-repair public transit projects. ITS America also applauded the selection for transportation secretary, saying that during his tenure as mayor, Buttigieg “created safe, smart, and resilient communities through strategic investment in transportation.”

With the latest news out of the way, we turn our attention to our featured stories for the month of December. First on the docket is “The Need for Better Traffic Management During Turbulent Times” from Simon Topp, Chief Commercial Officer at one.network. This article analyzes major events—including the impact of COVID-19, the 2020 election, and nationwide protests and demonstrations—and suggests ways that state road agencies can work with the public to better manage these events from a traffic management perspective.

Our second feature for this month is “Assured Autonomy: Unmanned Ground Systems Addressing Global Challenges” from Brian Wynne, President & CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). In this article, Wynne explains how AUVSI has seen tremendous advances in unmanned ground systems—or autonomous vehicles (AVs). The article discusses an example of AV in various localities and states in the form of autonomous personal delivery devices, or bots. Wynne also says the association is working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on proposals for how the federal government should treat automated driving systems.

From all of us at Roads & Bridges and Traffic & Transit, we wish our readers a safe and happy holiday! Here’s hoping we all may see a brighter New Year!

About the Author

Bruns is associate managing editor of Traffic & Transit.

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