Trump Administration Withholding $1.4 Billion in Transit Funds Authorized by Congress

A new "ticker" from  Transportation for America shows how long U.S. DOT has refused to award funding Congress granted it for transit projects.
A new "ticker" from Transportation for America shows how long U.S. DOT has refused to award funding Congress granted it for transit projects.

The Federal Transit Administration is sitting on $1.4 billion dollars that was earmarked for new transit projects. But instead of doing its job and granting the funds, under Trump, the agency has been stalling.

Just $25 million of the $1.4 billion appropriated for new transit projects in 2018 has been allocated by Trump’s FTA since it was awarded in March, according to a new “ticker” from Transportation for America. Just one project, Indianapolis’s Red Line Bus Rapid Transit, has received any portion of the 2018 appropriations.

Meanwhile, 17 other shovel-ready projects that are in line for funding are being jeopardized by Trump administration foot-dragging, T4A reports. Among them is Seattle’s Lynnwood Light Rail extension, which already had to be scaled back due to rising construction costs last year.

“Steel and other materials are getting more expensive by the day,” writes T4A, which is counting the number of days these projects have been waiting for funds authorized by Congress. “Potential construction workers are waiting to hear about a job that should have materialized yesterday.”

The delay is also leaving transit riders stranded.

LA’s Purple Line Extension, the third phase of one of the city’s two subway lines, for example, has been eagerly awaited for decades, said local transit writer Scott Frazier.

“It has really been the centerpiece of all of LA’s transit taxes dating back to 1980,” he told Streetsblog. “The third section takes the line from Century City to Westwood, which is critical for the success of the first two parts of the line.”

So far, local transit officials haven’t said they’re worried about the federal funding falling through, Frazier said. “But in the absence of updates, it’s hard to ignore that they’ve been saying ‘any day now’ since early 2017.”

Without action from U.S. DOT these 17 projects could also be in jeopardy:

  • Albuquerque, NM Central Avenue BRT
  • Dallas, TX DART Red & Blue Line Platform Extensions
  • El Paso, TX BRT Extension
  • Jacksonville, FL Southwest BRT
  • Los Angeles, CA Purple Line Extension (LRT), Section 3
  • Minneapolis, MN Blue Line (LRT) Extension
  • Minneapolis, MN Green Line (LRT) Extension
  • Minneapolis, MN Orange Line BRT
  • New York City, NY Canarsie (L) Line Improvements
  • Orange County, CA Streetcar
  • Reno, NV Virginia Street BRT
  • Sacramento, CA Riverfront Streetcar
  • Seattle, WA Lynnwood LRT extension
  • Seattle, WA Madison Street BRT
  • South Shore (IN/IL) Commuter Rail Double Tracking
  • St. Petersburg, FL Central Avenue BRT
  • Tempe, AZ Streetcar

It’s not entirely clear why Trump’s U.S. DOT has not been awarding the funding. It may be ideological: Elaine Chao has advanced the fringe far-right idea — rejected by the Republican-led Congress — that transit funding is inherently “local” (i.e. should not receive federal funds) while highway projects are “national” in scope. There may also be some disorganization within the agency.

Beth Osborn, policy director at Transportation for America, says cities waiting for funds have done everything they were supposed to do.

“When it comes to funding for infrastructure, this administration has repeatedly made it clear they expect states and cities to pick up part of the tab,” she said in a statement. “Yet these communities are doing exactly what the administration has asked for by committing their own dollars to fund these transit projects — in some cases, going to the ballot box to raise their own taxes — and yet still the administration does nothing.”

T4A is asking supporters to sign a petition addressed to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao demanding the release of the money.

  • oceanstater

    by referring to “Trump derangement syndrome” you lose any credibility for your comments which can only be seen as nasty and partisan. But considering Trump’s language, perhaps such language is appropriate in defending Trump.

  • Claude

    How exactly does delaying a project so inflation raises the cost “save billions”?
    Last I heard, needlessly raising the cost of an item didn’t count as saving money. It just wastes it.

  • cjstephens

    It only inflates the cost if you start it back up again at the same or higher prices. If you re-negotiate at more realistic rates, that’s how you save billions. And if you had done this in the first place, you would not have wasted years of delays and made commuters suffer so long.

  • cjstephens

    The first sign that you suffer from TDS is that you refuse to acknowledge that TDS even exists.

    If you come to these comments for the sole purpose of exchanging insults, I would suggest that Twitter is a better platform for you. If you have something cogent to say about the article, or a substantive disagreement with the comments, then feel free to share those.

  • Claude

    You’re assuming that every one of these projects is filled with fraud and waste because they’re government projects. Then you’re assuming that the same governments that negotiated what you claim (without offering any supporting documentation) was a ridiculously bad deal is going to suddenly be able to negotiate such a brilliant deal that it will now cover the cost of paying off the contracts that the agencies defaulted on and still save enough to cover the cost of inflation.
    Including the premium that the contractor will charge for dealing with a customer with a proven record of defaulting on contracts.
    If there is proof that the project is “featherbedding and graft” then the money shouldn’t have been approved.
    Once the money has been approved it should be disbursed as quickly as possible.
    The commuters aren’t suffering because the agencies have been corrupt or incompetent. They’re suffering because the Feds are playing games with people’s lives with their refusal to do their jobs for ideological reasons.
    The money has been approved and appropriated. The job of the DOT is now to cut the checks in a timely fashion.

  • cjstephens

    Do I assume that every project is filled with fraud and waste? Yes. And I don’t think I’m wrong. If you want some documentation, try reading this: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-construction-costs.html
    While it doesn’t address all the projects that are still waiting for money, dollars to doughnuts that a similar article could be written about each and every one.
    I’m also going to guess that you’re not familiar with how contracts of large projects get negotiated. When the numbers are as big as these get, there is always backing and forthing. If the contractors want to keep the job, and if they want to stay in the running for the next job and the job after that, they’ll find a way to cut costs. It’s not like they have many other clients they can turn to in order to make up the business.
    “Once the money has been approved it should be disbursed as quickly as possible.” Why? New management took over in 2017, and it gets to review all the deals it inherited. Are you surprised that they don’t want to pay for all the largesse the last administration handed out to all its friends, largesse it couldn’t even be bothered to back up in writing (hello, Gateway project)?
    Local governments have an easy solution to avoid whatever mess they find themselves in now: finance these local projects themselves without running to the Feds whenever they can’t live within their means.

  • Claude

    If only the Feds could live within their means…
    The $1.4 billion
    was allocated by the Republican Congress in 2018. This isn’t Obama era
    spending. It’s the current administration.
    It’s not the job of the Administration to dictate to the Congress how Congress spends money. The Constitution specifies that the budget is Congress’s responsibility. The President can sign the budget or veto it, but once it’s signed the President has no Constitutional authority to edit the budget. He’s an executive, not a dictator.
    I notice you chose to refer to New York, which in the article is reported as being the exception, with costs 7 times the average for similar projects built elsewhere. Some would say that deliberately selecting such an extreme outlier as the representative for the whole class borders on deliberate dishonesty, but I ascribe it to over-enthusiasm. It would be interesting to see your documentation of the level of fraud and waste on an average project rather than an extreme outlier.
    Either way, we can safely say that the fraud and waste is well under control in the other projects, since they don’t have the level of costs that NY City does.
    We can’t say cancelling the project and renegotiating will make the same people who negotiated the bad deal the first time into saintly sages who will now enact a great deal with the money.
    Yes, people are only people. There will always be human activity on large projects, so there will be a measure of fraud and waste. But it’s not the job of the Administration to deny funding on the principle that there may be waste that we haven’t documented. The money has been duly allocated by the current Republican Congress. The current administration should do their job under the Constitution and not place themselves above the people they pretend to serve.

  • cjstephens

    “7 times the average?” Seems awfully specific, so could I see your documentation for that? And frankly, I doubt it’s true. You suggest that everywhere else in the country that major transportation projects come in on budget (and on time?). Without even doing research I can think of two obvious holes in your argument: the Big Dig and California’s high speed rail boondoggle. Neither of which is in New York. If you really think that no other transportation projects have inflated, runaway budgets, I have a very economically priced bridge to sell you. I do know that some major urban rail projects in London and Paris have much, much lower per-mile and per-station costs than hours, despite much more expensive labor costs. Perhaps it would be worthwhile studying how we can follow their lead?

    You are also hopelessly naive in your understanding of how federal budgeting works. “Congress says so! The money must be spent! Even if we don’t actually have it to spend! Even if the states don’t want it!” That’s not how the country works. Never did. I, for one, welcome the White House trying to rein in pork barrel spending, regardless of which side of the aisle is trying to foist it on unsuspecting taxpayers.

  • Claude

    If you’re looking for my source, it was the article you said I should read.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-construction-costs.html
    Specifically, the fifth paragraph.
    “The estimated cost of the Long Island Rail Road project, known as “East
    Side Access,” has ballooned to $12 billion, or nearly $3.5 billion for
    each new mile of track — seven times the average elsewhere in the world.
    The recently completed Second Avenue subway on Manhattan’s Upper East
    Side and the 2015 extension of the No. 7 line to Hudson Yards also cost
    far above average, at $2.5 billion and $1.5 billion per mile,
    respectively.”
    You may have missed it because you were reading hastily with an intent to support for your preconceptions rather than a desire to learn information. You seem prone to that.
    Had you actually read my previous post you would have seen that I never said that no other project is ever over budget or behind schedule. In fact I said that as long as human beings are involved in large projects a certain amount of waste is inevitable.
    What I actually said was that it’s not the job of the administration to stand in the way of Congress doing their job because there may or may not be an unusual amount of waste and fraud in every last project that was approved.
    If Chao wants to make the case that the waste is egregious, let her make a point by point listing of the confirmed waste on each and every project she’s delaying, or put up a bond to recompense the municipalities for the waste she’s causing by delaying the projects needlessly.
    America is not based on conviction first, trial maybe later.
    Document why each individual project is unfit for the spending approved by Congress or issue the checks. This is not a dictatorship.

  • Claude

    This will teach them to rely on the integrity of the extremist ideological right.

  • Claude

    I think $100 billion is enough to run HSR to San Diego if the Republican leadership gets out of the way and lets us build it; probably not enough to get to San Jose if they keep dragging their feet and delaying progress.

  • cjstephens

    I’m glad you read the NYT article, but the numbers you are citing don’t support the point you are trying to make. And seriously, after you read several thousand words laying out how transportation projects have mind-bogglingly bloated budgets, your reaction is still “better make sure we send projects like these as much money as possible!”??? For real?

    I’d still like to see your examples of large transportation projects that don’t go wildly over budget. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but if they do, they have unicorn-level rarity. And not being confrontational here: seriously, if you can show me a project that didn’t suffer from budget bloat, let’s figure out why and try to replicate it. But letting local governments keep running to the feds whenever they can’t keep their contractors in line? No. That has to stop, and I’m glad that this administration is sending the signal that it won’t tolerate this kind of waste.

  • cjstephens

    You must want more Trump. Because comments like this are how you get more Trump.

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