Will the stimulus mean more transit dollars?

House Democrats have released a draft of the $275 billion federal stimulus package, including about $30 billion for highways and $10 billion for transit. 25% of transportation dollars spent on transit is slightly better than the usual 20% transit typically gets through legislation, earmarks, entitlement funds, etc.

Here is the excerpt that is most relevant to transportation:


To build a 21st century economy, we must engage contractors across the nation to create jobs – rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing public buildings, and putting people to work cleaning our air, water, and land.

Highway Infrastructure: $30 billion for highway and bridge construction projects. It is estimated that states have over 5,100 projects totaling over $64 billion that could be awarded within 180 days. These projects create jobs in the short term while saving commuters time and money in the long term. In 2006, the Department of Transportation estimated $8.5 billion was needed to maintain current systems and $61.4 billion was needed to improve highways and bridges.

Transit: Public transportation saves Americans time and money, saving as much as 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline and reducing carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons each year.

  • New Construction: $1 billion for Capital Investment Grants for new commuter rail or other light rail systems to increase public use of mass transit and to speed projects already in construction. The Federal Transit Administration has $2.4 billion in pre-approved projects.
  • Upgrades and Repair: $2 billion to modernize existing transit systems, including renovations to stations, security systems, computers, equipment, structures, signals, and communications. Funds will be distributed through the existing formula. The repair backlog is nearly $50 billion.
  • Transit Capital Assistance: $6 billion to purchase buses and equipment needed to increase public transportation and improve intermodal and transit facilities. The Department of Transportation estimates a $3.2 billion maintenance backlog and $9.2 billion in needed improvements. The American Public Transportation Association identified 787 ready-to-go transit projects totaling $15.5 billion. Funds will be distributed through the existing formulas.

Amtrak and Intercity Passenger Rail Construction Grants: $1.1 billion to improve the speed and capacity of intercity passenger rail service. The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General estimates the Northeast Corridor alone has a backlog of over $10 billion.

As a transit planner and activist, I am encouarged by the increased amount of spending dedicated for transit projects. However, I see a few problems – $2 billion could easily be spent by New Jersey Transit or the NYC MTA on improving JUST their stations and/or infrastructure. The distinct advantage for obtaining funds for projects will go toward the larger, pre-existing agencies, versus smaller agencies or for agencies that have yet to be started. Additionally, we do need to spend more money on our infrastructure than ever before – the stimulus will provide start up funds, but with erroding tax bases and cuts on all levels of government – local, county and state – where will the matching funds come from?

Are we just setting ourselves up for additional frustration and failure? Or will the stimulus mean more transit dollars in the long term?

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