Government Shutdown to End, Leaving Transit Agencies to Pick Up the Pieces
Congratulations, gentle Congresspeople. You have come up with a deeply flawed solution to a problem only you would create. Never mind that it set up another showdown three months from now. The good news is the government shutdown is almost over, for the moment. More than 18,000 furloughed U.S. DOT officials can return to work.
While highway work continued practically uninterrupted and more than 24,000 air traffic controllers kept the skies safe, the shutdown halted funding reimbursements to local transit agencies from both federal and state entities. The North Carolina DOT’s public transportation division ceased operations entirely, furloughing 22 federally funded positions. Stoddard County, Missouri, planned to shut down its transit system today, threatening to lay off all seven of its drivers and strand many people who depend on the service. Nearby counties appeared to be on the brink of following suit.
In California, environmental reviews were stalled and project delivery times — which Congressional Republicans were dead set on accelerating with the last transportation bill — were extended.
In Hampton Roads, Virginia, two transit expansion studies were halted due to the hold-up of federal support.
Moody’s Investors Service declared GARVEE bonds, issued to help fund transit, to be the single most vulnerable kind of debt in the shutdown. The name, after all, is an acronym for “Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles” — and if you can’t anticipate any revenue from federal grants, you’re kind of screwed.
As the shutdown hit, it also sent FTA employees home early from the American Public Transportation Association’s annual meeting in Chicago. Many had gone there hoping to maximize their time with transit officials from around the country, since the sequester had slashed the agency’s travel budget and they don’t get to have as many face-to-face meetings as they used to. FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff called the shutdown “maddening,” “demoralizing,” “insulting,” and “unnecessary.”
It’s unclear when furloughed employees will return to work.