Economic Stimulus, High-Speed Rail, Transit Funding

Stimulus Update: Details from the Final Package

Talking Points Memo has the details on allocations in the final stimulus package. How do things stand as far as transportation is concerned?

  • On funding for roads and bridges, a compromise was hatched between the House version ($30 billion) and the Senate version (just over $27 billion). The final damage? $29 billion.
  • The funding transit ditches the House’s $12 billion allocation, including Nadler’s amendment, and it maintains the Senate’s less robust $8.4 billion version. Of that, $6.9 billion is allocated to transit formula grants, and $750 million to each of fixed guideways and New Starts.
  • Amtrak supplemental capital grants were boosted considerably. The House version proposed $800 million, while the Senate proposed $850 million. The final version? $1.3 billion. However, the provision for intercity/HSR grants to states has been stripped entirely.
  • The Senate’s proposal for $5.5 billion of supplemental discretion grants — competitive grants that would be awarded at USDOT discretion — was replaced with $1.5 billion.
  • For airport grants, the Senate’s proposed $1.3 billion was maintained in the final bill.
  • The final approved bill incorporates a dramatic boost in funding toward high-speed rail. The Senate’s version allocated $2 billion, while the House’s version did not allocate any money specifically for high-speed rail. The final version, however, allocates $8 billion to high speed rail; we can thank the Obama Administration for pressing that increase forward. (Note that the United States permits itself a more generous definition of “high speed.” Although the generally accepted standard, e.g. in Europe is 200 km/hr = 125 mph, in the United States, speeds as low as 90 mph = 145 km/hr qualify as “high speed.”) It seems probable that much of the funding will be applied to proposals that have made the most progress, which is a good development for California. Among the nation’s designated high-speed rail corridors, California’s project is the furthest along in the process, having certified a programmatic level EIR/EIS, and is currently undergoing the process of preparing specific project-level environmental documents.

In its initial proposal for spending the Bay Area’s stimulus money, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission suggested $50 million (of the Senate’s proposed $2 billion for high speed rail) to be applied toward the fund for the Transbay Transit Center train box, in addition to $75 million from transit funds. We will see if or how this changes with the new $8 billion HSR allotment — as well as the other revisions that are made as MTC puts together its final plan for the Bay Area’s local transportation stimulus.

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