Forced cuts would create troubles across U.S. transportation - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Forced budget cuts mean fewer flights, rougher roads

Longer lines, delays and cancellations would occur at airports nationwide if the forced budget cuts take effect on March 1. (Source: CNN) Longer lines, delays and cancellations would occur at airports nationwide if the forced budget cuts take effect on March 1. (Source: CNN)
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(RNN) - The looming sequestration could create travel problems just in time for spring break - and carry over into the summer travel season.

The $85 billion forced budget cuts for this year will begin March 1, and affect U.S. Department of Transportation, potentially slowing down how people and goods move across the U.S.

As part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), the USDOT is obligated to cut $1 billion across its departments and programs. These aren't gradual cuts, these are immediate.

"Sequestration will have a serious impact on the transportation services that are critical to the traveling public and the nation's economy," said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in a statement on the DOT website.

According to the policy group Transportation for America, most of the cuts in transportation would occur in programs paid from the USDOT's general fund and not from gas taxes. Programs under these cuts would be over-subscribed TIGER grants – which help municipalities fix roads and bridges, transit construction, Amtrak and other passenger rail project funding.

"The more innovative and popular with local communities they are, the more likely they are to feel the blow," said Stephen Lee Davis on the Transportation for America website.

Flight

Of the $1 billion that will be a part of the USDOT's budget cuts, $600 million will come from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in fiscal year 2013.

These cuts, which take effect on April 1, will have the biggest affect in travel for the American public.

In a letter to their "aviation colleges," LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration administrator Michael Huerta listed the changes they're considering under the cuts:

Flights could be delayed up to 90 minutes to major cities, such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco at peak hours because of the cuts. These delays will have a ripple effect out to smaller airports.

Around 47,000 FAA employees, including technicians, air traffic controllers and maintenance technicians, will be furloughed for one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year in September, and midnight shifts in more than 60 towers across the country would be eliminated.

More than 100 airports in smaller cities like Boca Raton, FL, Hilton Head, SC and Joplin, MO, will close.

Lastly, the budget for fixing or ordering new equipment navigational equipment, such as radars, would be put on hold, and those who fix them also will face furloughs.

Roads and highways

Most road work would be saved, in part to the Highway Trust Fund which was established in 1956 to provide dedicated federal funding for highways.

Through the trust fund, federal highway and transit programs on local, state and federal programs are funded. For the most part, the trust fund is not a part of sequestration, but transfers from the USDOT's general fund will be subject to an 8.2 percent cut about $156 million.

Many states and municipalities rely on grants to fix roads, bridges, build bike lanes, pedestrian bridges and other surface projects. Those grants are funded by the general fund, such as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 6, 2012.

MAP-21 projects were set to have a budget of $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, but now $471 million will be cut from the program. It's possible that MAP-21 will collapse.

Also, emergency relief funds would be cut $136 million and the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary grants, which foster construction of roads, would be reduced by $41 million.

Travel on the rails

The rail system is not exempt from these cuts. Amtrak is expected to cut nearly $116 million in budget.

Despite the number and the lack of a CFO, Amtrak said they would be able to sustain the cuts and not have to cut its service.

Not every form of transportation is as fortunate as Amtrak. The forced budget cuts pushed back due to the "fiscal cliff" could leave the transportation industry taking steps back and not forward.

"The President has put forward a solution to avoid these cuts," said LaHood in a statement. "We need Congress to come together to work on a long-term, balanced solution to our deficit challenges."

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