Senate’s New DOT Spending Bill Eases One Transit Funding Barrier

large_I5_2Bridge_Render_11248119.JPGAn artist's rendering of the proposed multi-modal Columbia River Crossing, with light rail and a bike path beneath the bridge. (Photo: Oregonian)

During the lengthy process of pursuing a "New Starts" funding agreement with the U.S. DOT, local transit officials are often at the mercy of cost-benefit calculations that have failed to keep pace with evolutions in transport planning. But one aspect of that slog could soon change, thanks to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

When evaluating a bid for federal aid by the Columbia River Crossing (CRC), a proposed multi-modal road and light rail link between Portland and Vancouver, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) decided to treat the broad project as separate highway and transit efforts -- effectively prohibiting state gas taxes and proposed bridge tolls from counting towards the local share of the CRC's transit costs, as the Oregonian reported.

Murray fired back by using her power as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's transportation panel to insert a relevant provision in the DOT's 2010 budget. Her language requires the FTA to calculate the local share of multi-modal transit proposals based on "all local funds incorporated in the unified finance plan" for the project.

Murray's move, if it survives a conference with the House, should ensure that the CRC's FTA pitch is evaluated using more appropriate math. Yet Murray's language would apply across the board, meaning that other regional transport plans blending roads and transit could have an easier time winning federal money for the latter portion of the project -- as opposed to just the former.

(h/t Twitter user @cwsjd99)