Obama Proposes Infra Bank, Livability Grants, Doubling Transit Funds

The White House has released a fact sheet on the transportation provisions in the President’s budget. [PDF]

Here are the highlights, straight from the document:

  • Provides $13.4 billion in discretionary resources in 2012, a $1.3 billion decrease from 2010 levels. (This figure excludes $109 billion in obligation limitations for the surface transportation plan. Including surface transportation obligation limitations, Department of Transportation’s total budgetary resources increase by $53 billion over 2010.)
  • Includes a six-year, $556 billion surface reauthorization plan to modernize the country’s surface transportation infrastructure, create jobs, and pave the way for long-term economic growth. The President will work with the Congress to ensure that the plan will not increase the deficit.
  • Jump-starts productive investment and stimulates job growth with a first-year funding boost of $50 billion in 2012.
  • Provides $8 billion in 2012 and $53 billion over six years to reach the President’s goal of providing 80 percent of Americans with convenient access to a passenger rail system, featuring high-speed service, within 25 years.
  • Includes $30 billion over six years for a pioneering National Infrastructure Bank to invest in projects of regional or national significance to the economy.
  • Continues to invest in the Next Generation Air Transportation System—a revolutionary modernization of our aviation system.
  • Initiates Transportation Leadership Awards to create incentives for State and local partners to pursue critical transportation policy reforms.
  • Reduces funding for Airport Grants, focusing Federal support on smaller airports, while giving larger airports additional flexibility to raise their own resources.

The budget includes a new FHWA livability grant program totaling $4.1 billion next year and $28 billion over six years. It specifically targets multi-modal transportation hubs and bike/ped/transit access, and formally embraces a “fix-it-first” approach for highways and transit.

The budget also includes $32 billion in competitive grants to encourage states to adopt safety and livability reforms, as well as $119 billion for transit over the next six years — about double the amount set aside for transit each year under the previous transportation bill.

10 thoughts on Obama Proposes Infra Bank, Livability Grants, Doubling Transit Funds

  1. Just from the short description, I tally at least $100 Billion that is likely to get cut before discussions can even begin. And of course, the 800-lb gorilla in the room (a sustainable funding stream) has not been addressed. Still, lots to like in this proposal; glad to see the Administration is taking a stand.

  2. A good agenda. Let’s see what happens when it hits the partisan meat grinder. It’s a shame the GOP has positioned itself against rail and livable streets. There’s nothing inherently conservative about wanting your region to survive in the post-automobile age. We need another wake-up call comparable to the OPEC oil embargo of ’73. This would be a good moment for the Suez Canal to get shut down.

  3. Rising gas prices will provide a teachable moment during 2011. True, if gas is at $4/gal, motorists will balk at increasing the gas tax, but the door should be open to greater state/regional/local experimentation with VMT fees, roadway pricing, etc.

  4. Anything you can do with rail transit; you can do with buses far more cheaply. Buses are far more flexible, they’re cheap, they’re easy to run on a daily basis. In some cases they’re actually faster. Now some are saying “I’m not gonna ride a bus” but is it really important that we provide an extremely expensive subsidized transportation option for snobs who don’t wanna be caught dead in a bus.

    There are thousands of transit agencies all over the country, most of which consist of bus lines. But transit agencies have this inferiority complex if they don’t have a train at their disposal, so they rise to the challenge and begin programs to compete for federal dollars to build trains, whether it’s light-rail, heavy rail, commuter rail, monorail or maglevs. So they pass ridiculous taxes on soda and gum or something. Like how Arlington paid for the Dallas Cowboys new stadium. by raising city’s sales tax by 0.5 percent, the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent, and car rental tax by 5 percent.

    During the Bush administration, the federal goverment enacted a ruling requiring cost-effectiveness research to detail which area was in most need of allocating money for transit systems or whom ever proved they we’re at least the best financially feasible. The first thing Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood did for the Obama administration was eliminate the ruling. So cities like New Orleans and Dallas which largely proved they couldn’t receive the money ended up with their hands out getting a hand out.

  5. @ Mark Walker, as an Egyptian myself, I loved your Suez Canal comment. My family isn’t well connected politically (no thanks to the institutional discrimination against Coptic Christians under the Mubarak Administration), but I’ll see what I can do =)

    @ LazyReader, there is nothing “complex” about the inferiority complex you say transit agencies without rail have. A transit agency without rail IS inferior, and that has nothing to do with vanity, and everything to do with the fact that most transit agencies need to be able to provide a diverse suite of transportation options in order to meet 21st century challenges: traffic congestion, C02 emissions, economic sustainability, and the list goes on. The point is, among other things, is that you’ve mistaken transit agencies actually trying to do their job (provide transit, use different modes to accommodate different needs, and do those things in a way that is context sensitive and appeals to and supports public and private interests) in an environment that has often favored (and heavily subsidized, with untold amounts of negative environmental and economic externalities) roads.

    And speaking of externalities and government bias, that’s just what the problem was with the Cost Effectiveness Index. It didn’t account for the positive externalities associated with building transit, and grossly underestimated future ridership for projects (see http://usa.streetsblog.org/2009/09/21/the-cost-of-lowballing-light-rail-ridership-projections/ and http://usa.streetsblog.org/2010/04/05/report-bush-era-transit-cost-effectiveness-rule-to-cost-charlotte-67m/). And I think I’ve made this argument to you before on a previous post, that the perceived economic and environmental inefficiency of rail is not a function of rail itself, but of the unequal footing of rail in relation to roads. The local buses, intercity buses, freight trucks and private vehicles that you seem to favor are all competing for road space that simply does not exist anymore. And as much as I’d love to see congestion pricing, any positive effects from such a pricing scheme will be negligible if people don’t have other options for getting around. The federal highway system is already built out enough, and to expand it any further would come at significant costs to our health, personal wealth, and economy.

    LazyReader, even though there’s clearly a fundamental difference between your views and that of most of the other readers of this blog, I appreciate your frequent presence in the comments section. It livens things up a bit, and makes us all sharper. That said, for someone who chooses to spend so much time commenting on here, I don’t think you’ve taken enough time to fully explore the resources available to you in this blog, and I say that with all due respect. Most of what you usually say can be easily refuted by a few simple keyword searches on the blog (top right corner of page). And they’re not just editorial resources. Many of the editorial posts contain supporting links to trusted sources.

  6. “Anything you can do with rail transit; you can do with buses far more cheaply.”

    Really? Where’s the bus network that carries 90,000 passengers per direction per hour on a right-of-way that’s about 9 meters wide?

  7. Thank you for your statement. The funny problem with the written or typed word is it’s difficult to tell whether someone like me is being sarcastic or serious through each paragraph. For future reference I prefer sarcasm with a tablespoon of serious…….and a pinch of frustration.

    Fifty years ago, very few people worked at home compared to the millions who do it today. Just imagine how many might be doing it fifty years in the future. Just think of all those potential riders that won’t use it.

    When people ask why the railroad business failed so many years ago, technically they didn’t……..Mostly they simply prioritized freight as opposed to people. Some others did fail, they failed because they thought they were in the railroad business; they were not, they were in the transportation business (Just like Microsoft is in the software business. If they don’t offer an evolving and lucrative service every few years, we’ll stop buying it and hardware makers will simply look elsewhere) And when planes and cars outperformed trains in speed and convenience respectivley, they just sunk. Theres this nostalgic characteristic with trains, especially the art deco masterpieces of the 30’s and 40’s. Just like a car commercial. Their cool, sleek, their pretty looking, their powerful, their length suggests Freudian implications ( <<<< See, sarcasm ).

    A lot of people think that a hundred years ago, everyone got around on trains, they don't realize that only the wealthy could afford to ride the passenger trains on any frequent basis. And only the first emerging group of white collar workers and their families could afford streetcars.

    Whatever rail scheme they have. The states are going to have to subsidize as much as half the operating costs to begin with, for years, and when it's worn out, the few people who use it are gonna form a lobby to keep it going and rebuild it entirely. As for energy savings, the idea is the energy people will save by not driving will compensate for the line's energy use during it's construction and pay off in the future. But they'll spend more energy rebuilding it every few years and they have to compensate for that as well. In Honolulu, Hawaii they want to build an elevated rail transit. The proposal claims the project will save 396 million British thermal units (BTUs) of energy each day, or over 144 billion BTUs per year. Sounds great, except project construction will cost 7.48 trillion BTUs. That means it will take 52 years of savings to pay back the energy cost. Long before 52 years are up, huge energy investments will be needed to replace rail cars, worn out track, other infrastructure, etc. So there is likely no net energy savings at all. Energy consumption for transit is rising because there building it in areas that don't need it. Similar accounts have been seen in Washington DC or other cities that experimented with rail transit only 30-40 years ago. Many of which have fallen into disrepair or poor ridership.

    In Portland, Oregon they built four light-rail lines and one streetcar line since the 1980?s. Before light-rail, about ten percent of Portland area commuters and residents used transit (in the form of buses) to get around. Now it’s below eight percent. Despite the cities population increase, the number of new drivers outweighs the number of new transit riders. When they built light-rail, they encountered cost overruns (typical with nearly any transit project) so the took money from their Bus operations to raise the extra capital (then said the projects were under budget) needed and they lost a lot of riders. A lot of upset riders who once depended on the otherwise cheap bus service which some were actually faster. And now their cities transit agency is in debt.


    So maybe rail won’t work in your little town. But what about New York or Chicago? Well, the New York City subway is the most cost efficient rail system in the country. Something to be proud of. Still….it’s very costly. Their agencies are always on the verge of some fiscal turmoil or some scandals involving cost overruns. Their behind on their maintenence. They have ignored maintenance issues in favor of expanding and building additional lines under the belief they’ll draw in more riders and fares to pay for it in the future. A NYC agency employee turned whistleblower (and fired for having been found leaking information) has said ”We will never have enough money to keep the system maintained”, ”No matter how much you give us it’ll never be enough”. Because every time you give them more money, they just go out and build more instead of maintain what they already have.

  8. The Big Four. People who are disabled, too old, too young, too poor (or otherwise unable to drive) have long been the major users of public transit. Planners attempts to attract middle-class commuters out of their autos by building expensive rail projects have often simply hurt transit-dependent people as fares increase and service is cut back in order to pay for rail construction. It’s the vehicular equivalent to Gentrification (in which development of urban areas led to financially ousting the lower income natives in favor of the yuppies). But instead of building high-cost, high-capacity rail lines, planners should focus on designing transit systems to serve urban areas. That means using low-capacity jitneys, shuttle vans, and demand-responsive transit systems. It also means de-monopolizing public transit, opening the door for private providers of transportation services who might be able to do so cheaper.

  9. they created an electric railway here in hampton roads, VA. From experience being from San Diego, AMTRAK was very successful. I’d still like to know how the tax is going to be appropriated. Not what its benefits are.

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