More on the Stimulus Draft

We’re excited to tell you that the full draft copy of the stimulus bill (PDF) is now available on the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee website, and we can tell you a lot more specifics about the bill and what it will mean for transportation in the United States. Remember that this is a draft of the legislation and is therefore subject to change in the House; the Senate bill may also be quite different. But we’ll keep you in the loop if and when changes rear their respective heads. Also, a new website, eventually at Recovery.gov, will be established to track the distribution and use of funds, making it easier for all of us to figure out just what’s going on in D.C.

As we wrote a few hours ago, the bill provides around $10 billion to transit ($9 billion) and rail ($1 billion) investments. This is less than did House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar in his Rebuild America proposal, which would have provided $12 billion to transit and $5 billion to rail. Even so, the commitment to highways remains the same, at roughly $30 billion. So Congress, as usual, is assuring highway funding while cutting transit investment… Quelle surprise.

Here’s a more in-depth review of what the bill would fund:

Intercity Rail

$300 million in capital assistance grants

  • Preference for projects can can begin within 120 days
  • “Preference” for FRA-compliant rolling stock; implication is that agencies could buy non-FRA compliant stock (i.e., lighter European or Asian trains) – this would be a change in policy, which currently doesn’t allow such trains
  • Preference for projects “that support the development of intercity high speed rail service;” $300 million won’t actually allow for the creation of HSR, but it could help push towards that goal… this implies that local non-HSR corridors would not be as likely to get aid
  • Federal share can be up to 100% of total cost, also a change in policy

$800 million in grants for Amtrak

  • Would go to upgrades of infrastructure or equipment – this would probably mean more work on the Northeast Corridor and further renovation of locomotives and train cars
  • Funds could not be used for operating expenses, which are already theoretically covered by Amtrak authorization bills

Public Transit

$6 billion for formula grants

  • Money would be spent for capital projects, planning, enhancements, operating costs of equipment and facilities, in accordance with Title 49/Section 5307
  • Money would be distributed according to existing grant formula, based on urbanized area, existing transit expenditures, and transit use (based on Section 5336) – this means a focus on areas that already are well served by transit; New York alone, for instance, would likely get more than one billion dollars of these funds
  • $600 million of this amount would be reserved for nonurbanized or Indian Reservation areas (based on Section 5311)

$2 billion for fixed guideway upgrades

  • Money would be spent on improving existing rail transit systems (based on Section 5337)
  • Most funds currently go to New York, followed by Chicago, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Baltimore, and San Francisco, all of which have existing and aging heavy rail lines
  • This will be useful funding for renovating stations and doing track work

$1 billion for New Start and Small Start grants

  • Money would be added to existing $1.809 billion pot of funds reserved for new transit capital programs in fiscal year 2009, either large (New Starts) or small (Small Starts, less than $75 million) (based on Section 5338) – this would speed up and add significantly to the FTA’s ability to sponsor large light rail projects in “Space Race” cities such as Denver, Dallas, Houston, and Salt Lake
  • The current $200 million per annum limitation on funds dedicated to Small Starts projects (which might include Streetcar or BRT systems) would be ignored with these funds, so a potentially higher percentage of these funds would go to minor Small Start projects like the downtown circulators wanted by virtually every mid-to-large size city
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