We’re not particularly impressed; compared to $30 billion for highway construction, there is $10 billion for non-automobile uses here, and only $1 billion of that will go to New Start projects, $2 billion to modernization, and $1 billion to intercity rail. $6 billion will go to new or renovated equipment such as buses.
Why is this plan insufficient? For one, as the bill points out, there is a $50 billion backlog of repairs needed to be made to public transport, but only $2 billion is allocated for such investments. As we wrote early in the history of this blog, the number one need for transit in the United States is modernization of existing transit systems. New York’s Subway and Chicago’s L, among many others, desperately need to be rebuilt. This bill does not do much to help along that process.
Second, the bill does virtually nil for intercity rail, providing only $1.1 billion for Amtrak and state-based rail provision. The bill notes that the Northeast Corridor alone needs $10 billion in upgrades. How will this funding solve that problem, or tackle those of other corridors around the country? Where’s the money for high-speed rail operations?
Third, there’s only $1 billion set aside here for New Start grants. The fact of the matter is that the Second Avenue Subway’s First Phase alone will cost more than $4 billion. This money will do little to improve funding for transit agencies that are excited to get new rail and bus lines under construction.
And then there’s the $30 billion set aside for highways. Is this going to go towards more unnecessary roads? Did the dramatic reduction in traffic over the past eight months impress anyone in Congress? Or will this money go solely to needed repairs? This question has yet to be answered.
That said, there are possibilities for transit in other sections of the plan. $25 billion of the money to be redistributed to states for budget relief will go to paying for “essential services.” There doesn’t seem to be a reason that states couldn’t use that money for transit operations, which are facing record deficits around the country and which will not be able to take advantage of the $6 billion in buses this bill offers if they can’t hire drivers!
$31 billion is set aside to modernize public infrastructure with the goal of energy savings; there’s no reason that station and track improvements couldn’t fit in with this section of the bill.
But overall, the bill lacks any overriding ambition, and seems to be willing to provide only the modicum of funding with little attention to greater goals or even current needs. This is an early draft of legislation that still has a long way to go, so it may be too early to be making assumptions. But while this economic stimulus bill could be the foundation for a radical change in the way transportation is funded in the United States, what we’re getting here is nothing of the sort.
Here are the specifics:
General bill overview:
- $825 billion total, $275 billion for tax relief and $550 for public investment
- “In many instances funds are distributed through existing formulas to programs with proven track records and accountability measures already in place.”
- “How funds are spent, all announcements of contract and grant competitions and awards, and formula grant allocations must be posted on a special website created by the President. Program managers will also be listed so the public knows who to hold accountable.”
- “There are no earmarks in this package.”
Transportation: “Modernize Roads, Bridges, Transit and Waterways: To build a 21st century economy, we must engage contractors across the nation to create jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads, and bridges, modernize public buildings, and put people to work cleaning our air, water and land.”
- $30 billion for highway construction: “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.”
- $31 billion to modernize federal and other public infrastructure with investments that lead to long term energy cost savings
- $19 billion for clean water, flood control, and environmental restoration investments
- $10 billion for transit and rail to reduce traffic congestion and gas consumption:
- 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 North East Corridor alone has a backlog of over $10 billion.”
State Education and Other Budget Priorities:
- “$120 billion to states and school districts to stabilize budgets and prevent tax increases and deep cuts to critical education programs, including…
- $79 billion in state fiscal relief, including: $39 billion to local school districts and public colleges and universities distributed through existing state and federal formulas; $15 billion to states as bonus grants as a reward for meeting key performance measures; and $25 billion to states for other high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education.