The Obama Administration has released its proposed budget for FY 2011. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s portion of the budget, which accounts for $78.8 billion, mostly perpetuates the status quo approach to transportation spending. In particular, it includes requests for FHWA ($42.1 billion), FAA ($16.5 billion), FTA ($10.8 billion), the National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund ($4 billion), and FRA ($2.9 billion). The bulk of the FRA request consists of Amtrak ($1.6 billion) and high-speed rail ($1 billion). The budget also specifically allocates $527 million for the Livable Communities Program, to be used on projects that “increase transportation choice and integrate housing and land use into transportation decisions.”
Included in the transit funding are the New and Small Starts grants, which set aside a total of over $1.8 billion for capital investments in transit around the nation. The bulk of the New Starts funding is proposed for major transit projects outside of California. Three major projects serving New York City (Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, and ARC) are allocated $612 million. Other allocations include those for Salt Lake City projects ($180 million), Houston projects ($150 million), Denver projects ($120 million), Seattle University Link ($110 million), Dulles Metrorail ($96 million), Dallas Northwest/Southeast light rail ($86 million), Honolulu Rail Transit project ($55 million), Hartford busway ($45 million), Twin Cities Central Corridor ($45 million), and Orlando’s Central Florida Commuter Rail project ($40 million). A total of $200 million of Small Starts funding is also included for distribution to several other projects, mostly bus rapid transit.
Although the Bay Area was not in a position this year to receive as much funding as some other parts of the country, the budget nonetheless recommends $50 million for use on three major Bay Area transit projects. The Central Subway, Van Ness BRT, and East Bay BRT are all considered by FTA to be priorities for funding:
- Central Subway: The $20 million New Starts sum in this budget is a small portion of roughly $950 million in federal funding that the Central Subway is ultimately slated to receive, amounting to 60% of the $1.57 billion project cost.
- Van Ness BRT: The $15 million sum in this budget is a partial allocation of up to $75 million Small Starts for which this BRT corridor would be eligible, assuming that San Francisco opts to construct one of the two serious center lane BRT alternatives (rather than side lane BRT, which would be cheaper to build but would provide only diluted transit benefits). The maximum $75 million federal contribution would represent 57-63% of the total capital cost of $118-132 million.
- East Bay BRT: The $15 million sum in this budget is a partial allocation of up to $75 million Small Starts for which this BRT corridor would be eligible. The maximum $75 million federal contribution would represent about one-third of the total capital cost of $235 million. The exact status of the project is uncertain, in light of a requested swap for operations money. Nonetheless, AC Transit continues to move forward with environmental work and has not abandoned the project. A match of local funding has also been retained for the time being, so it is good to see that FTA has prioritized this BRT corridor.