Yesterday, Jerry Nadler’s stimulus amendment was approved, adding $3 billion of transit funds to the House stimulus ($1.5 billion for transit capital formula grants, and $1.5 billion for New Starts). In addition, an amendment proposed by Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) to strip Amtrak funding was defeated yesterday. Thanks to everyone who phoned their representatives in support of the Nadler amendment. Under the House’s original transportation plan, California was to receive about $2.8 billion for roads and bridges (out of $30 billion total), $951 million for transit capital grants (out of $6 billion total), and $295 million for fixed guideway modernization (out of $2 billion total). The original version also allocated $1 billion for New Starts, summing to the grand total of $9 billion. But thanks to the Nadler amendment, the transit grand total has now increased to $12 billion, bringing it in line with the amount of funding suggested in Jim Oberstar’s proposal.
Winning that extra $3 billion for transit in the House package is an important victory, but it serves equally as a reminder of how much more we will need to invest in our nation’s transit networks to improve them robustly — in the way that we know we must to curb climate change and transform our cities into denser, healthier, more walkable places. $3 billion is hardly sufficient to address critical needs within individual metropolitan areas, let alone the entire nation. In the Bay Area, $3 billion would buy merely three miles of light rail subway at the Central Subway’s prices, and it is a fraction of the roughly $30 billion that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission plans to use on transit expansion over the next twenty-five years throughout the region. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority contemplates a five-year $30 billion capital program, a great deal of which would be devoted to maintaining and repairing the existing system and renewing rolling stock, along with select capacity improvements and system expansion. And these are just two examples. So while the amended House stimulus package is a victory, it is only a beginning of what must ultimately be a paradigm shift in how this country thinks about mobility and funding mobility improvements.
The next step will be to improve the transit package in the Senate’s version of the stimulus bill. For awhile, the Senate was only providing a summary of its stimulus provisions, but the full 431-page text of S336, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, has finally been made publicly available. Just in case you are not keen on combing through the text — riveting read though it is — here is an encapsulation of the transportation provisions, which allocate a total of $45.5 billion to DOT:
- Highways and Roads/FHWA ($27 billion): Includes supplemental grants to be allocated to states under the Surface Transportation Program formula for highways and bridges. It also includes repair and retrofit projects, and requires each state to allocate at least 5% of funds for its portion towards program that qualify under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) improvement program. The goal is to apportion supplemental highway grants, and create new jobs thereby, as quickly as possible — so half the funds must be assigned within 180 days, and the second half must be assigned within one year after enacting the bill. The first half of funds will be allocated exclusively to states, while most of the second half of will be allocated to local governments. The bill contains a “use-or-lose” provision, which means that any funds remaining after one year will be transferred into the Supplementary Discretionary Grants program (see below).
- Supplemental Discretionary Grants for a National Surface Transportation System ($5.5 billion): This carves out a new section not present in the House version. It gives the Secretary of Transportation discretion to award funds on a competitive basis, particularly to those that “will have a significant impact on the Nation, a metropolitan area, or a region.” This could apply to highway and bridge projects; to public transportation, including New Starts or Small Starts; passenger rail, freight, port improvements. It could apply to seismic retrofits, or to new construction. Although the Secretary is afforded rather broad discretion in allocating the supplemental discretionary grants, the Secretary is still directed to (i) prioritize projects that can be completed within three years; (ii) distribute funds equitably throughout different regions; and (iii) balance projects that benefit both urban and rural areas. The funding would be allocated to applications submitted within 180 days of enacting the bill, but there is a separate pot of transferred “use-or-lose” funds that could fund other projects whose applications would be submitted within one year of enacting the bill.
- Passenger Rail/FRA ($1.1 billion): The bill provides $850 million of capital improvement grants to Amtrak, prioritized for projects that would expand passenger rail capacity and that would take no more than two years to be completed. Additionally, no more than half the funds may be applied to the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s most profitable and most heavily traveled corridor. The bill also provides $250 million of supplemental grants to improve intercity passenger rail, with priority given to projects that can be completed within two years.
- High-Speed Rail Corridors ($2 billion): The bill provides discretionary grants for designated high-speed rail corridors; the funds remain available through September 30, 2011. This allocation is not present in the House stimulus. The Secretary of Transportation has the authority to grant this money to a single state, a collection of states, a public high-speed rail authority, or to Amtrak.
- Public Transit/FTA ($8.4 billion): The bill provides supplemental grants for investment in public transit, apportioned via the transit formula; funds could be applied to rolling stock, property acquisition, stations, and other improvements. As for highways, funding is split into two halves (the first half to be assigned within 180 days, and the second half to be assigned within one year); and, as with highways, remaining money after one year will be transferred to the supplementary discretionary grants under the “use-or-lose” provision. No funding is provided to fixed guideway modernization or to New Starts, both of which receive funding under the House stimulus.
- Aviation/FAA ($1.3 billion): The bill allocates $1.1 billion of supplemental discretionary grants for airporst infrastructure investment, and a supplemental $200 million for facilities and equipment related to aviation.
- Maritime ($100 million): Supplemental grants for small shipyards.
- Office of Inspector General ($7.8 million): Money for audits and investigations.