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NFTA funding restored in federal transit bill

WASHINGTON – Congress has dropped plans to slash mass transit funding for “high-density” states such as New York, meaning the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority will not be losing $3.6 million annually in federal aid after all.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Tuesday that House and Senate negotiators have restored funding for the transit aid program in the final version of a five-year, $253 billion transportation bill. Congressional votes on the final version of the transportation bill are expected later this week.

“We were able to not only restore, but even increase, the funding the critical 5340 program receives,” said Schumer, who pushed for the funds to be restored. “This is great news for upstate and downstate New York and a major victory for our regional transit agencies – because it means we have protected millions in critical transportation funding our agencies were set to receive over the next six years.”

A last-minute amendment to the House version of the transportation bill eliminated the 5340 program, which targets additional federal aid to transit systems in seven “high-density” states where more people rely on mass transit. Transit agencies statewide would have lost about $100 million annually.

But the House-passed cut prompted an outcry from lawmakers and transit agencies in Northeastern states, who insisted that the additional funds were needed to support their larger mass transit systems.

The high-density funding program accounts for about a quarter of the NFTA’s federal funding, Kimberley A. Minkel, the NFTA’s executive director, said when the House passed the funding cut in early November. She said that if the cut remained in place, her agency likely would have to raise fares and cut service.

“To have lost this funding would have been devastating to our transit operations,” said Minkel, who credited Schumer with a “herculean effort” in preserving the funding.

But Schumer didn’t do it alone. Other lawmakers who served on the conference committee that negotiated the compromise – such as Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-Manhattan – also pressed to restore the funding, said Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat.

Higgins said, “We knew it was strongly likely that in the conference committee, the funding would be restored.”

Meantime, Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, stressed that the restoration of the funding was a bipartisan effort.

“Both sides worked together to restore funding for mass transit agencies like the NFTA,” said Collins. “Without this support, mass transit users in the Buffalo and Rochester areas could have seen dramatic fare increases.”