House Republicans Threaten Critical Transit Expansions Across the Nation

HR 1, which would eliminate the FTA's New Starts program, threatens transit projects in these locations across the country. Photo: ##http://www.reconnectingamerica.org/posts/sustainable-communities-awards##Reconnecting America##

Since the 1940s, civic leaders have dreamed of extending Bay Area Rapid Transit between San Francisco and San Jose. Ten years ago, Santa Clara County residents even voted to tax themselves an extra half-cent for 30 years to pay for the connection. But despite its merits and popular support, the project has never managed to clear a hurdle that just about all transit expansion projects face: the large upfront infrastructure investment. Until this week.

The Obama administration recently announced that the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program would commit funds to the San Francisco-San Jose BART connection, overcoming those longstanding obstacles.

Now, however, the New Starts program is under legislative assault by the House GOP, and around the country meritorious projects like the BART line extension are threatened, says Colin Peppard at the NRDC’s Switchboard blog:

It was a big deal in San Jose this week when the Obama Administration announced as part of its transportation budget that at long last the BART extension to San Jose would receive the federal help it needs to get moving. But this progress could all come to a screeching halt if House Republicans get their way and eliminate New Starts, the federal program that would fund the extension.

This program has funded nearly all major new transit projects and expansions in the U.S. since it was created in 1976. Dozens of critical projects in states across country have relied on this program to get off the ground. These projects have improved our cities and suburbs, cut pollution, eased traffic, and spurred local economic growth. But we won’t see many new transit projects in America if the House Republicans get their way.

That’s what’s at stake with H.R. 1, the funding bill that is currently being debated in Congress. And San Jose isn’t alone.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cyclelicious points out that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is accepting transportation policy feedback on its Facebook page and that the organization could benefit from the influence of transportation reformers. PubliCola is rallying against the gutting of a Washington state bill that would have required insurance companies to offer a pay-as-you-drive option. And Gateway Streets remarks on the fact that despite the debacles in other states, the high-speed rail connection between Chicago and St. Louis is right on track.

  • Neil Patel

    BART from San Francisco to San Jose isn’t meritous. There is already Caltrain which is starved of funds and the east bay could have commuter service to San Jose for far cheaper than BART.

  • BART to San Jose is controversial among Bay Area environmentalists, with many saying that there are much more cost-effective ways of spending that money. I support BART to San Jose because:

    — It will do far more to promote transit oriented development than other alternatives. With an easy commute to San Jose, I expect that new housing would appear around BART stations all along the East Bay.

    — It is more politically feasible than more cost-effective alternatives. San Jose residents voted to tax themselves to pay for BART, but they would not vote to tax themselves to pay for the alternatives. The alternatives appeal to transit techies, but they do not have the political appeal that will make them happen – while BART does.

  • david vartanoff

    I’m with Neil and totally opposed to extending BART. For the price we could multitrack and electrify the Capitol Corridor plus get the Dumbarton cutoff running ALL of which are more useful.

  • The map on Reconnecting America says that the map you’re showing “displays all of the grants awarded by HUD & DOT under the Sustainable Communities and TIGER programs during FY2010.” I think that’s separate from New Starts.

  • Andy Chow

    I would prefer this blog use a better example of how positive a New Start project can be. This project is the bottom of the barrel and the one that is opposed by the local environmental and transit community. This is not the best planned project as it could be. Basically the new start project would go to a flea market site far from local employers and surrounded by low density housing (but is located within the San Jose city limit).

    I think there are many more projects in the new starts program worthy of funding. There are many more that are well planned and strongly supported by the environmental/transit advocacy community.

    At the same time, the rail line that does connect between San Francisco and San Jose, Caltrain, is under threat of having all off peak and weekend service canceled. Service could also be canceled for any stations along the line. A lot of riders would not appreciate nor understand why a lot of money is being directed to a project that won’t carry anyone for at least 8-10 years while the one that does is being starved of funds.

  • david

    Yeah, what a horrible example. The writer of this piece clearly doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I know this is an old issue already well-discussed, but:
    -I don’t know what Charles is referring to. Voters DID vote to tax themselves to pay for Caltrain expansion and electrification in 2000.
    -For less money than the cost of getting BART to downtown San Jose, not only could they do what David says, they could also electrify Caltrain, extend it to the Transbay Terminal, and pay for an increase in frequency on Caltrain and Capitol. This would also be cheaper to maintain and operate over time, be compatible with other trains, provide express trains, and be more pleasant to ride.

  • Indeed, BART-SJ is the poster-child for everything wrong with the New Starts Program.

    Just last week, SJ City Council voted to leave in place existing auto-centric zoning around Diridon station (where HSR/BART would converge). Instead of TOD, they want a sea-of-parking — 20,000 new spaces. Maybe more, if a stadium is built there.

  • lulu brainiac

    If the choice is between giving BART or Caltrain money – give it to BART. At least the trains will run on time without the snarky ass conductors.

  • People, everyone knows you can take CalTrain to San Jose from the City and the Peninsula. BART is a way to get to San Jose from the East Bay. Do you think no one in the East Bay ever wants to go to San Jose? Tell that to the people driving down 880 and 680 in the morning!

  • Andy Chow

    As if BART doesn’t have snarky ass train operators or station attendants.

    There are two different trains already running between the East Bay and San Jose. One is Amtrak Capitol Corridor and the other is Altamont Commuter Express. The Capitol Corridor connects with BART at Coliseum and Richmond, and possibly in Union City.

    There are different alternatives possible for a rail connection between Fremont and San Jose. All of them have not been given serious consideration, and this technology and this alignment are the worst. Another terrible part is that the City of San Jose has pretty done nothing to stop auto centric developments.

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