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Ohio Senator Stresses Impact of Infrastructure Bill on Transit

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown highlighted the roughly $39 billion that would fund public transit nationwide if the U.S. House approves a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate nearly a month ago.

One of Envision Utah’s greatest successes: The state has more transit infrastructure than many larger states.
(TNS) — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown used Tuesday morning’s visit to the headquarters of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority to highlight the roughly $39 billion that would fund public transit nationwide if the U.S. House approves a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate nearly a month ago.

Both Brown, a Democrat from Cleveland, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, Republican from Cincinnati, voted for the bill on Aug. 10.

Brown spent just less than an hour at the SARTA headquarters facility at Gateway Boulevard SE before heading to an event in Mansfield.

He chatted with SARTA CEO Kirt Conrad and Joe Risby, president of the AFSCME Local 1880, which represents bus drivers, mechanics and other union employees.

He asked a lot of questions related to work experiences and the challenges of transitioning to zero-emission technology of SARTA employees who stood in the agency’s bus garage. Mark Finnicum, SARTA’s chief operations officers, showed how SARTA employees pump hydrogen into the agency’s buses from SARTA’s filling station.

“Our infrastructure in this country used to be the envy of the world. Our grandparents built it. But we haven’t maintained it. Our roads, our airports, our bridges, our water and sewer systems. We have too much lead in too many pipes. We have too many communities without broadband. We haven’t invested enough in new transit technology,” Brown said.

“Mayors, business people, workers, community leaders have sounded the alarm for many years including in Stark County. Including in Massillon and Canton and all over. But politicians have paid lip service to investing in public transit. To investing in infrastructure. It’s been mostly empty talk.”

Brown said with the infrastructure bill, “we are investing more in public transit than anytime in American history. One point three billion (dollars) for Ohio transit. Thirty-two million (dollars) for Canton. That’s going to help SARTA invest in new buses. Hydrogen buses and buses that lower (emissions). Zero emission buses. As we move toward that. Canton has been a national leader.”

The senator said federal dollars would fund job training for SARTA employees to work with next-generation buses.

Brown praises SARTA for being busing pioneer

Brown said SARTA has gone further than any other Ohio transit system toward zero-emission vehicles. And he said federal funding from the infrastructure bill would help transit systems around Ohio and the country make that transition from fossil fuel-burning diesel.

Conrad said if SARTA gets an estimated $32 million over five years from the infrastructure bill, SARTA would expand its fleet of hydrogen buses from its current 19. They currently cost about $900,000 each but their deliveries are being delayed as much as two years due to supply chain shortages. The funding would also be spent on upgrading the hydrogen filling stations so it could pump hydrogen at a pressure suitable for smaller vehicles like SARTA staff vehicles, Conrad said.

Fates of bills unclear

The U.S. House is expected to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill late this month. But progressive congressmen are threatening to withhold approval for the infrastructure bill unless Congress also approves a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that also funds many of their priorities. It’s partially funded by hiking taxes on corporations and people earning more than $400,000 a year, that includes paid sick leave from work, expanding Medicare to cover hearing, dental and vision treatment and free pre-kindergarten as well as addressing climate change.

Brown said he wants the reconciliation bill to fund the development of full-service transit stops in urban areas in Ohio. But that’s “not clear yet.”

However, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, in an op-ed has called for Democrats to pause on passing the bill. He has expressed concerns about the cost.

Brown said Tuesday that “senators say all kinds of things and I’m not responsible for anyone’s comments but my own.”

Brown said he had not spoken with Manchin since he published the op-ed. But they represent rural areas in their states that are similar in demographics.

“I am enthusiastic for both of these bills, so I guess we have that less in common,” Brown said, adding that there was a chance neither bill would pass “but I’m confident it will.”

As far as funding from the infrastructure bill for the extension of the U.S. 30 expressway, Brown said, it would be up to state transportation officials and local county engineers whether to allocate money from a fund in the infrastructure bill set up to pay for rehabilitating bridges.

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