In New Orleans, LaHood Unveils $280M in Streetcar and Bus Grants

During a visit to New Orleans, where city planners are seeking nearly $100 million in federal stimulus money for three new streetcar lines, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced plans to award $280 million in grants for streetcar and bus networks.

large_streetcar.red.JPGNew Orleans is counting on bonds, backed by sales taxes, to finance new streetcar lines. (Photo: Times-Picayune)

The grants, set to be awarded this spring, do not require new spending -- the money will come from unallocated funding lawmakers have already approved for transit New Starts and buses, according to a statement released by the U.S. DOT.

The streetcar and bus investments are being depicted as the first phase in the Obama administration's inter-agency sustainable communities partnership, headed by longtime transit advocate Shelley Poticha. The legislation officially starting that push, which would also authorize $4 billion for transit-oriented development projects, has yet to see action in Congress.

“Fostering the concept of livability in transportation projects will stimulate America’s neighborhoods to become safer, healthier and more vibrant," LaHood said in a statement on the grants.

The money is set to be divided into two parts. The first would award $130 million to streetcars and "urban circulators," with a focus on proposals that promote mixed-use development in local neighborhoods. No project can win more than $25 million from that pot, however, which would provide about 12 percent of the funding New Orleans needs for its ambitious streetcar expansion plan.

The second $150 million group of bus grants would go to proposals that "provide access to jobs, healthcare, and education, and/or contribute to the redevelopment of neighborhoods into pedestrian-friendly vibrant environments," the U.S. DOT said in its announcement.

As part of his trip to New Orleans, the first leg of a nationwide transportation tour, LaHood toured local transit stations that were hit by Hurricane Katrina. He stopped by the Union Passenger Terminal (home of the Amtrak Crescent line) and the Willow Street barn, where the city's famous cherry-red streetcars were repaired following hurricane-related flooding.