DOT Finance Infrastructure President

The President’s Budget: Full of Ambition, Short on Congressional Support

» The executive branch’s proposed spending for FY 2013 would greatly expand spending on transit and intercity rail, but it faces a hostile Congress. It brings good news, however, for five California rail projects and new light rail lines for Charlotte, Honolulu, and Portland.

The White House has introduced a budget — and a reauthorization proposal — that would significantly increase investment in transportation infrastructure over the next six years. Though the legislation as currently designed will not be passed into law because of reluctance from Congress, the Obama Administration’s continued efforts to expand funding for sustainable mobility options are to be praised.

Over the course of the next six years, the Administration proposes significant expansions in transit and rail spending, increasing those programs from 22.9% of the overall DOT budget for surface transportation in fiscal year 2013 (and 21% in actual spending in FY 2011) to 35.7% of the budget in FY 2018. See table below. Though expenditures on highways would increase significantly as well, it would be in public transportation modes that the real expansion would be made. Significant spending on intercity rail — almost $50 billion over six years — as well as new transit capital projects ($21 billion) and state of good repair (SOGR, at $32 billion) would be the most important contributions of the program.

The Administration’s Proposed Six-Year Transportation Reauthorization
Unless noted, amounts in $b201320142015201620172018Total
FHA (including $500 m for TIFIA)42.5746.4649.6653.5455.5158.52305.25
Transit Formula (FTA)4.766.537.118.058.969.9145.31
Bus Rail SOGR (FTA)
Transit Expansion (FTA)2.453.013.253.794.174.4121.07
FTA & FRA as % of Total22.931.532.534.034.935.732.5

In addition to revenues from the fuel tax (which no one seems willing to advocate increasing), the White House proposes to pay for its transportation bill by reducing the size of the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which is used to support armed operations abroad. Because of the decision to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the amount of money needed for this purpose is lessened, and thus the possibility of expanding spending on transportation.

Most of the President’s proposal is unlikely to see the light of day in the House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans newly hostile to the idea of using Highway Trust Fund revenues to pay for transit projects. Yet their proposal would create a $78 billion funding shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund over the next ten years according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. That’s with $0 committed to transit! The Administration proposal, on the other hand, is fully funded (or at least accounted for*) and would transform the Highway Trust Fund into the much more reasonably titled Transportation Trust Fund; the priorities of each piece of legislation are very clear.

The defection of several House Republicans away from their own party’s transportation bill suggests that the legislation may not even get out of their chamber. At this point, the Senate’s bipartisan, mostly status-quo-extending two-year transportation reauthorization bill is now the most likely of all three proposals to be official government policy by the end of the spring. But even it faces the strong possibility of being ditched in favor of a simple extension of the existing bill, which will expire on March 31 according to the current law.

Nonetheless, the Obama Administration’s plans for this expansion in transit funding, which mirror similar proposals from previous years, are a reminder of  the ambitions for improved transportation that are possible in this country but continue to be derailed by political forces hostile to the idea of investing in the nation’s infrastructure. This is a serious proposal to significantly improve the state of the nation’s rail and bus systems — if we choose to take it.

More definite than any of the recommendations for an expansion in funding are the Obama Administration’s recommendations for new capital investment projects. The Federal Transit Administration contributes a significant portion of costs for new rail and bus lines in the United States through the New Starts and Small Starts programs, though the Department of Transportation is recommending that these simply be merged into a new Transit Expansion and Livable Communities Program, which would also include grants for projects currently funded by the TIGER program.

The major news is that the FTA will recommend pledging its support with Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGA) soon to four new major rail projects — the Charlotte Northeast Corridor light rail, the Los Angeles Regional Connector light rail subway, the Los Angeles Westside Subway, and the Columbia River Crossing Project light rail line in Portland — in addition to five other rail projects that will receive that funding guarantee a bit soon — a South Sacramento light rail line, San Francisco’s Central Subway, Honolulu’s Rail project, San Jose’s BART extension, and the Portland-Milwaukie light rail line. See the chart below. The latter projects are all under construction; the former group will get underway either by the end of the year or in 2013.

In addition, the FTA will fund nine BRT lines with the Project Construction Grant Agreements (PCGA) across the country. Of course the twelve major projects that already have FFGAs will continue to be funded, including New York’s two megaprojects, the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access for the Long Island Railroad.

The DOT’s Proposed Funding for Transit Capital Projects (35 projects)
CityProject ModeRatingCost m$% Fed ShareLength MiRiders kCost / Rider k$
New YorkLIRR East Side AccessCRFFGA738635.63.516744
New York2nd Ave Phase 1MFFGA486726.72.321323
DallasGreen/Orange LinesLRTFFGA140649.821.045.931
DenverEagle East CorridorCRFFGA204350.430.257.535
Salt LakeDraperLRTFFGA19359.83.86.828
WashingtonDulles Metro Phase 1MFFGA314228.611.785.737
SeattleUniversity LinkLRTFFGA194841.73.140.248
HartfordHartford-New BritainBRTFFGA56748.59.416.335
OrlandoSunrail Phase 1CRFFGA35750.132.07.448
MinneapolisCentral CorridorLRTFFGA95749.59.840.923
HoustonNorth CorridorLRTFFGA75659.55.329.925
HoustonSoutheast CorridorLRTFFGA82354.76.628.829
SacramentoSouth Phase 2LRTPending27050.04.31027
San FranciscoCentral SubwayLRTPending157859.71.735.145
HonoluluRail TransitMPending512630.220.111644
San JoseSilicon Valley BART Phase 1MPending233038.610.24651
Los AngelesRegional ConnectorLRTRecommended134350.01.988.215
Los AngelesWestside SubwayMRecommended566242.48.978.772
CharlotteNortheast CorridorLRTRecommended106950.09.324.643
PortlandColumbia River CrossingLRTRecommended94090.42.92243
JacksonvilleSoutheast Corridor (2014)BRTRecommended PCGA2479.211.14.75
PhoenixCentral Mesa (2016)LRTRecommended PCGA19837.93.19.720
FresnoBlackstone/Kings Canyon (2014)BRTRecommended PCGA4881.313.87.27
OaklandEast Bay (2016)BRTRecommended PCGA20536.614.441.75
San FranciscoVan Ness (2016)BRTRecommended PCGA12659.52.052.42
JacksonvilleNorth Corridor (2013)BRTRecommended PCGA3381.89.34.67
Grand RapidsSilver Line (2014)BRTRecommended PCGA3580.09.67.25
El PasoDyer Corridor (2015)BRTRecommended PCGA3557.1123.410
EugeneWest Eugene EMX (2017)BRTRecommended PCGA9678.18.97.413
San DiegoMid Coast CorridorLRTPlanning - Medium High164249.411
BaltimoreRed LineLRTPlanning - Medium High221950.014.55739
WashingtonPurple LineLRTPlanning - Medium High192650.016.360.132
MinneapolisSouthwest CorridorLRTPlanning - Medium122150.0
HoustonUniversity CorridorLRTPlanning - Medium139350.011.3

FFGA – Full Funding Grant Agreement (formerly New Start) already approved by FTA, meaning that the federal government has guaranteed payment on its share of capital costs, and project is moving forward.

Pending – The FTA is planning to advance with a FFGA this year.

Recommended – The FTA intends to work with the transit agency to prepare for a FFGA either this year (Charlotte) or next (Los Angeles and Portland).

Recommended PCGA – The FTA is planning to advance with a Project Construction Grant Agreement (formerly Small Start) with a transit agency either this year or next.

Planning – Still under review; FFGA likely in several years. Rating indicates DOT’s empirical sense of the project’s value.

* “Fully funded,” of course, is a nebulous term: Does money saved from pulling out of overseas military conflicts “count” as money to be spent somewhere else? The Administration says yes, while Republicans in Congress say no, arguing that that money is deficitary anyway.

Image above: Planned Westwood/UCLA Station, from Metro

19 replies on “The President’s Budget: Full of Ambition, Short on Congressional Support”

Its a nice summation of the delusional Tea Party. Act like they are paying the most taxes, when rural are not, then slam urban & suburban transportation as elitist and tax wasting, though most tax dollars come from urban areas. And for good me sure, they practice the politics of division.

Abe Lincoln must be rolling in his grave at this lot.

That image reminds me that the LA Westside metro line will have a station at Wilshire & Fairfax, basically directly under the La Brea tar pits, and adjacent to buildings with methane gas detectors in their lobbies. I would love to see the metro line happen, but I hope they tread carefully with the construction.

They believe they know how to do it now. There is a reason why there was a Congressional ban on the route for a decade, though.

I’m amazed Houston’s corridors rank so well on cost/rider—imagine how well the University Corridor would have scored had it been submitted.

Also, I was under the impression East Bay BRT killed by Berkeley—has the project been truncated, or is this something different?

Suppose Obama was to win re-election and the Democrats took the House back, would these budget proposals need 50 votes in the Senate, or 60 to get pass a filibuster? If 50 then the chance of passage is reasonable come 2013

I wouldn’t bet on it personally.

For the US to move forward the GOP has to suffer an overwhelming defeat this election cycle, which in the House and especially the Senate, is a very tall order. Its a long shot but not impossible.

Given recent history if they’re left in control of even 1 out of the 3 bodies in question (Presidency, House, Senate) I would bet on the GOP doubling down on intransigence.

In the House, I don’t see it as a long shot, I think Republicans are in severe trouble. Not only are Republicans making themselves toxic, they are about to suffer a major structural loss due to the 2010 census. Only theft can keep them in place in the House.

In the Senate, the structural forces mean that Republicans may get control of the Senate again, but they definitely aren’t going to be reduced below the “obstruction number” of 41. Sigh.

I agree with you up to a point and think the odds on the Dems taking the House back are now tipping back in their favour.

Unfortunately, the Senate is the odd one out and its the element that keeps the necessary overwhelming defeat in the category of long shot.

And the Senate Republicans have demonstrated a considerable amount of intransigence even without the psycho tea party House.

I wounder why the Democrats didn’t try to pass this new bill idea while they had full control of Congress instead of waiting till now when it will become Highway Railway Superbowl of poltical football for the next year or two.

Maybe this Administration thought the Reauthorization could become Stimulus-Two. But hindsight is 20/20.

But now we have a huge political opportunity– to show the hypocrisy of Teabagging. “Socialism” for “those people” is wasteful, but diverging even more wealth to rural areas is somehow not.

Or take a page out of their playbook– threaten the House with expiration of the gas tax, much like they threatened last year with the debt ceiling.

Tea Party (n.)

A political movement based on the fear that somewhere one dollar of taxpayers’ money is being spent on an urban member of an undeserving minority.

And sure enough, the House tyranny continues, with threats to hold the strategic oil preserves hostage.

Again, you can’t negotiate with such a mentality. So let the gas tax expire. It’s the same strategy that Obama won publicly with the pending expiration of lower payroll tax rates. Let the public realize the consequences of this do-nothing/tyrannical Congress.

Only when this Congress truly does nothing, such that a major consequence then occurs for the broader public, has anything been accomplished. There has to be sufficient public outcry to force these tyrants to finally compromise.

Because the Senate Democratic leadership and the President were in severe denial about the nature of the Republicans, treating the Republicans as “colleagues” rather than as the obstructionist lunatics which they are.

What I see happening is states picking up funding for projects – and they will be incremental things like 110 service expansion. And this even when Obama wins reelection, which I suspect he will.

“the White House proposes to pay for its transportation bill by reducing the size of the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which is used to support armed operations abroad.”

What a dopey stance. Politically it allows Republicans to run ads saying “Obama wants to enrich transit unions rather than the troops” or some other nonsense but economically transit should be able to depend on its funding as a core part of transportation, not being dependent on how many wars the US happens to be fighting at a given time.

To the contrary, I think it says let’s do some nation-building in our own nation for once.

However, I’m tired of increasing highway spending for nominal increases in transit. At this point, just let the gas tax expire. Blue states can actually keep more of their tax base without the federal pass-through, while red states can learn what’s it’s truly like to live without any taint of socialism.

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