House Transpo Bill Spells Trouble for Transit Projects Across America

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Chicago’s Red and Purple Line modernization project could be delayed or worse under the funding formulas in the House transportation bill, says Representative Dan Lipinski. Image via CTA

A provision in the House GOP’s new transportation bill threatens to upend how transit agencies fund major capital projects, delaying or killing efforts to expand and maintain rail and bus networks.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRR), released Tuesday and marked up in committee yesterday, would change funding rules for the three federal programs that support transit maintenance and expansion projects, known as New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity.

Currently, transit capital projects are eligible to receive 80 percent of their funding from federal sources, with local sources providing the remaining 20 percent. This is the same as the federal match available for highway projects. But the new House bill would cut the maximum federal match for transit projects to 50 percent while leaving the highway formula untouched. The bill would also prohibit transit agencies from counting funds from other federal programs (TIFIA loans, for instance) toward the local portion.

Representatives from urban areas warn that the House bill jeopardizes projects to maintain and improve transit systems. At the mark-up hearing yesterday, Representative Dan Lipinski, a Democrat who represents Chicago, said the measure “could end or delay Red and Purple Line modernization projects in Chicago.”

By cutting the potential share of project funds available from federal sources, the bill would also make transit projects less appealing relative to highways in the eyes of local governments, which would have to pitch in a smaller percentage for road projects.

Smaller cities are more likely to take advantage of federal matching funds that exceed 50 percent of a project’s total cost. Albuquerque, for instance, is counting on an 80 percent match to build its downtown BRT route. Larger cities are more likely to supplement a 50 percent federal grant with another source of federal funds, like TIFIA loans.

New York Representative Jerrold Nadler is sponsoring an amendment with Lipinski to undo the provision. In a statement, Nadler said, “This provision will create a major problem for many agencies and certainly could create a major problem for the bill going forward if it’s not corrected.”

Lipinski withdrew the amendment, however, after Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) promised “we’ll work toward getting this fixed.”

You can track the outcome of this amendment and others at Transportation for America.

  • CeeTee55

    This could be a big problem in the next few decades. The House is titled towards Republicans, and the Republican orthodoxy today is anti-transit, and sees transit funding as just a “giveaway” to people who tend not to vote for them.

  • lunartree

    “Fiscal conservatives” are not fiscally responsible.

  • The Overhead Wire

    While I don’t like that it’s going to 50%, this has been the defacto match for the last 5-6 years. No one has got an 80% match since Salt Lake did when they made a deal for a bunch of lines where the total federal contribution was something like 25% overall. Folks are making this out to be a new thing but it really isn’t. It’s been going on for quite a while now, they just want to make it the law. Perhaps they should push road projects down to equal where transit has been so people think more about what they are spending, we just know that won’t happen.

  • Miles Bader

    What’s bizarre about this sort of thing is that it’s so clearly and purely mean-spirited… there’s no veneer of “fiscal responsibility,” it’s just straight-up “haha, screw you guys who are not in our tribe.” ><

  • wsj88

    Angui

  • wsj88

    This isn’t entirely accurate. The bulk of federal funding (roughly 7-8 billion) in federal funding goes out via the Urbanized Formula Program (5307) and Rural Program (5311). Basically every transit agency gets funding through these programs, and the match is 80% federal, 20% local – same as the federal highway program. New Starts, which is only for certain select transit capital projects, has a much lower typical match. There is no equivalent of New Starts in the federal highway program.

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