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Transpo Committee Members Oppose Limited Transit Funds in Stimulus; U.K. High-Speed 2; Hyderabad Metro Stalls

House Transportation Committee Members Express Opposition to Transit Funding in Draft Stimulus Bill

We discussed the text of the stimulus bill yesterday, decrying its rather limited investment in transit, and the fact that it would allocate far less to transit and high-speed rail projects than would have Congressman Jim Oberstar’s Rebuild America proposal, even while maintaining the level of support planned for highways. Now the Wall Street Journal reports that some congressmen, especially those on the Transportation Committee, are calling foul:

Some members of the House transportation committee objected to the proposed level of investment during a Democratic caucus session Thursday, and several members later spoke out during a committee meeting. Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.) suggested the committee draft a letter or resolution to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objecting to the transport section of the stimulus bill.

Rep. Oberstar suggested the committee “mobilize those practitioners of infrastructure” at a hearing next week to demonstrate the need to increase spending levels on shovel-ready projects. “Then I think we make the move on the House leadership and the incoming Obama administration,” he said.

The good news here is that the Democratic members of the Transportation Committee are in open disagreement with their House colleagues on the Appropriations Committee. There is, then, a coalition in Congress that will push for improved funding for non-automobile transportation in the stimulus bill. It is our hope, then, that transit funding is pushed up from $9 billion to the $12 billion Oberstar proposed and rail funding pushed up from $1 billion to $5 billion. These would be worthy improvements.

High-Speed Two Advances in the United Kingdom

Even as Transport Minister Geoff Hoon approved plans for the controversial third runway at Heathrow Airport, he also announced that the government would begin the study of the U.K.’s second high-speed rail line. The first, High-Speed One, opened in 2007 between the Channel Tunnel and St. Pancras in London, and is the route taken by Southeastern Main Line trains and Eurostar trains to Paris and Brussels. The country will create an independent corporation – High-Speed Two – that will study how to connect St. Pancras with a new rail hub at Heathrow Airport and a new North-South high-speed rail line, which will eventually extend to Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland, after passing through Birmingham in the West Midlands.

High-Speed Two will have an interchange at Heathrow with Crossrail, a new underground east-west regional rail system being built for London. It will parallel the route of the existing West Coast Main Line, which has reached capacity.

The Financial Times also reports that the U.K. is considering restarting its rail electrification program, a pragmatic move to increase speeds and energy efficiency. The next lines to be electrified (the East and West Coast Main Lines are already using catenaries) would be the Great Western Main Line from London to Wales and the Midland Main Line from London to Nottingham and Sheffield.

Hyderabad Metro Plans Fall to the Wayside

Hyderabad, a 7 million-person city in central India, has been planning a metro system for the past few years modeled on Delhi’s very successful Metro, which opened in 2002 and is rapidly expanding. The first phase of the system would have three lines: a north-south connector, an east-west line, and a northwest-southeast line, for a total of around 70 km of new construction. Trains would run on elevated viaducts around the city.

But the right wing-controlled Andhra Pradesh regional government have pushed out Maytas, which is an Indian infrastructure company. The project’s finances have recently become a bit confused, and the government is interested to rebidding to another contractor, but it’s unclear when or whether that will actually happen. Left and center parties in the region claim that farming out the contract to a private company, rather than the Delhi Metro corporation, for instance, has led to major financial problems and the use of public land and funds for private betterment. As of now, though, the project appears stalled.

Congress DOT

LaHood Confirmation Hearing Rescheduled

Secretary of Transportation-Designate Ray LaHood’s Confirmation Hearing is now scheduled to take place Wednesday the 21st at 2:00 PM Eastern, after having been delayed from earlier this week because of “not being ready,” whatever that meant. We will attempt quite sincerly this time to live-blog it and bring you Transportation News As It Comes.


Big News: Dingell Out, Waxman In

John Dingell, U.S. Representative from Michigan, has been ousted from his post at the helm of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. He’s been in that post – or at least the top Democrat on the committee – for 28 years. Replacing him is Henry Waxman of California, who won the Democratic House vote 137-122.

This is excellent news for people who care about alternative modes of travel and in pushing towards ways to prevent climate change. As a Michigan Representative, Dingell has been unilaterally opposed to forcing the automakers to improve their cars’ fuel economy. And he’s done almost nothing to promote increasing funding for transit and high-speed rail.

Waxman, on the other hand, has become a big transit promoter after spending 10 years fighting the extension of the Red Line subway in Los Angeles through his native Westside. Thankfully, he’s come around to see the advantages of mass transit and has become one of its bigger proponents in the House. To see him as the head of this relatively powerful committee is excellent news for transit advocates.

Ladies and gentlemen, the stars are aligning – if President-Elect Obama decides to push forward on a massive increase in funding for public transit and rail systems nationwide, Congress will be on his side.

Congress Finance Infrastructure

A Few Answers on the Public Works Bill

The House and Senate, and we’ve discussed in a recent post, has been considering a major infrastructure bill that would provide a massive new source of funds for improvements to the nation’s roads and railways. I asked a few questions to Jim Berard, Director of Communications for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is headed up by Congressman Jim Oberstar. He also sent me a handy PDF of the letter sent yesterday by Oberstar and Representatives John Mica and Peter DeFazio to Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke in reference to the recent AIG transit funding disaster. You’ll note that the final two pages of the document show all of the deals made by the nation’s transit agencies with AIG, summed up to a flabbergasting $16 billion; let’s just say that most of this nation’s public transit rail fleet appears to be owned by AIG and being leased back to transit authorities. I won’t blabber on again about why that’s such a bad idea…

Here’s the Q&A:

1. Have the specifics of the infrastructure/public works bill been laid out yet? How much of the proposal will be dedicated to transportation improvements? Of that, what percentage is dedicated to transit vs. roads?

“The final bill will be drawn up by Speaker Pelosi, based on recommendations of the various committees of jurisdiction.  We do not know the final dollar amount of the bill or how much of that total will be dedicated to infrastructure.  We can, however, use the stimulus bill passed by the House in late September, H.R. 7110, as a guide.  That bill provided $30 in infrastructure investment, of which $12.8 billion for highways and bridges and $4.6 billion for transit.”

2. Will the bill’s transportation component provide funding to states or directly to transportation agencies? Will the DOT be asked to evaluate and choose which projects to fund, or will Congress make those decisions in the bill itself?

“The funding for transportation infrastructure will be distributed to the states according to the same formula by which they currently receive revenue out of the Highway Trust Fund.  For transit, larger transit agencies will receive funding directly, smaller systems will get their funds through the state.

3. Will the transportation investments go towards new projects, or also be aimed for the renewal and renovation of current highways and transit systems?

It will be up to the states to determine which projects are funded.  If the new bill follows the same process set out in H.R. 7110, the states will be required to give priority to projects that can be started within 120 days.  These can be new construction or rehabilitation of current infrastructure.

4. Will there be aid to transit agencies designed to counteract the declining resources of state budgets and the problems due to those agencies’ involvement with AIG?

“We are very concerned about the effect AIG’s collapse is having on transit systems.  Our committee has sent a letter to the Treasury Secretary and the Federal Reserve Chairman asking them to step in and prevent action against transit agencies in this case.  (See attachment.) We will certainly monitor this situation closely and work with the Speaker to add legislative language to help these systems if such an approach is needed.”