» The future of transportation funding may be in question in the halls of federal, state, and local governments, but investment in improved transit continues at a remarkable pace in 2015. Explore The Transport Politic’s interactive database of projects across the continent.
The failure of the U.S. federal government to increase the gas tax since 1993 — in spite of inflation, an increasing population, and degraded infrastructure — has dominated the discussion on transportation policy since the late 2000s.* All that discussion, though, has failed to result in the development of long-term national revenue sources that accommodate the needs of municipalities interested in expanding their local transportation systems, and funding has stagnated. As a reaction to that state of relative austerity, policymakers from Arizona to Maine have argued for “fix-it-first” policies that emphasize enhancements of the existing system over any new construction.
The lack of expansion in federal revenues, however, has not produced a cut in spending on construction of new transit lines operating in fixed guideways — far from it, as localities and states have become adept at cobbling together varying sources of funding for their projects. As this summary of major transit investments shows, in 2015 there are expansion projects underway on about 100 projects in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, in addition to dozens of additional projects in various stages of planning. There should be no doubt about the interest of American metropolitan regions in investing in the future of their public transportation networks.
The following regions are expected to have new or expanded lines open to the public this year:
- Bus Rapid Transit: Chicago, Hartford, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Toronto, and Waterloo.
- Streetcar: Charlotte and Washington.
- Light Rail: Edmonton, Houston (2 lines), Phoenix, Portland, and Sacramento.
- Heavy Rail: New York and San Francisco.
- Commuter Rail: Boston, Los Angeles, and Toronto.
- Stations: Chicago, Miami, and New York.
Construction is expected to begin on projects in the following regions in 2015:
- Bus Rapid Transit: Boston, El Paso, Houston, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, and Toronto.
- Streetcar: Milwaukee.
- Light Rail: Baltimore, Phoenix, San Diego, and Washington.
- Commuter Rail: Orlando and San Juan.
- Stations: Raleigh.
There are dozens of additional transit projects in cities throughout the continent that commenced construction prior to 2015 and which will be completed next year or later. What is unquestionably true is that the overall investment in transit is enormous: There is more than $90 billion being spent on new projects under construction and more than $7 billion being spent on major renovations underway in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico (these are costs across the board, covering the entire construction process, which in almost every case is a multi-year affair), accounting for a total of 667 new miles of fixed-route transit services.
That’s down from 737 miles of projects under construction last year — though in 2014, bus rapid transit projects made up a larger share of overall investments compared to 2015.
2014 was a big year for transit line openings. New or improved stations opened in Boston, Denver, New York City, and Orange County; rail lines opened or were extended in Atlanta, Calgary, Dallas, Montreal, Oakland, Orlando, Tucson, the Twin Cities, and Washington; and bus rapid transit expanded in Arlington, El Paso, Fort Collins, Grand Rapids, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Bernardino, San Diego, Seattle, and Toronto.
Not everything opened on time, though: The repeatedly delayed 7 Subway Extension in New York City and the H Street/Benning Road Streetcar in Washington, which were supposed to be ready for passengers in 2014, will instead begin operations this year.
Projects that appear to be underway now may be cancelled. In late 2013, Cincinnati halted work on its proposed streetcar line after voters there elected an anti-streetcar mayor. That project is now under construction, albeit at an extra cost. In 2014, three projects that appeared to be fully funded and ready for completion — a streetcar line in San Antonio and bus rapid transit projects in Fresno and Nashville — were abandoned by their respective city councils. Community opposition to transit projects, largely a result of popular fear that street space is being taken away from automobiles, remains a major obstacle.
In Maryland, the election of new Republican Governor Larry Hogan has put into question the construction of the Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in suburban Washington, two of the U.S.’s largest light rail projects. Both are fully funded and are practically ready to break ground, but Hogan is still making up his mind about whether to make these investments.
Hogan’s decision on these projects may testify to the GOP’s current strategy when it comes to transit policy after the party’s strong performance in the 2014 midterms. In 2010 and 2011, after Republicans took over many statehouses across the country, rail projects in Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, and Wisconsin that had been funded were cancelled. It remains to be seen if 2015 will replicate that story.
Whatever the fate of a few individual projects, the story in most metropolitan areas across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico remains a steadfast commitment to improving transit service through capital investment.
The following interactive map, which is also available in full screen mode through Google Maps, offers the opportunity to explore the hundreds of new transit extensions being built or planned across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico — from a geographic perspective. A spreadsheet of the data presented in the map is available through Google Docs.
The map and database provide information about projects in five categories. Each category can be turned on and off on the map.
- Capital expansions: Transit projects that are currently under construction (or are projected to be in 2015) that provide new or expanded capacity over current services. (About 100 projects.)
- Major renovations: Transit projects that are currently under construction (or are projected to be in 2015) that provide significant improvements to existing lines or stations. (About 20 projects.**)
- Mostly funded: Transit projects that will not be under construction in 2015 but which have assembled most of their local funding sources and which are likely to enter construction soon. (About 35 projects.)
- Planning process: Transit projects that are currently undergoing review by the U.S. Federal Transit Administration (or similar Canadian or Mexican agencies) for significant federal funding commitments. (About 10 projects.)
- Future projects: Transit projects that are far enough along the planning process by official local agencies to have at least a general route alignment selected, but which have not yet entered the federal planning process and which have not assembled local funding. (About 50 projects.)
The map and database thus offer information both about projects that are under construction and planned. As such, this information has replaced the formerly separated “Under Construction” and “Planned” pages of The Transport Politic. They are now unified in the Under Construction/Planned page here. Intercity rail projects are not included.
If the map does not load correctly, reload this page or access the map directly through Google Maps.
The following chart, which is accessible and sortable through Google Docs, provides access to all of the information contained in the above map.
Note that there are undoubtedly errors and overlooked projects in the map and table included in this post. Please comment on the Google Table, in the comments here, or on the Under Construction/Planned projects page if there are issues that stand out or missing projects.
* Though apparently some Republican leaders are now considering the possibility of raising the gas tax this year.
** This category of projects underrepresents the massive number of upgrade projects being undertaken by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Fortunately, the MTA has its own interactive database of projects for the public to explore.