Trump’s Federal Transit Administration Has Gone Rogue

LA's Purple Line extension is one of 17 projects waiting for funding from an FTA that suddenly seems uninterested in providing it. Photo:  Wikimedia
LA's Purple Line extension is one of 17 projects waiting for funding from an FTA that suddenly seems uninterested in providing it. Photo: Wikimedia

Donald Trump’s U.S. DOT is refusing to do its job when it comes to transit, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office [PDF]. The GAO says the agency is failing to follow through on key provisions of the last two federal transportation bills, yet more evidence that under Trump, federal officials are obstructing programs intended to improve transit in American cities.

MAP-21, the transportation bill enacted in 2012, instructed the Federal Transit Administration to develop a mechanism to grant transit agencies funds for multiple, “interrelated” projects at the same time. This could spur agencies to think about transit expansion in terms of networks, not just single routes.

The same bill also told the FTA to streamline the approval process for “Core Capacity” grants, which agencies use to rehab existing infrastructure like tracks and signals. In addition, the 2015 transportation bill, known as the FAST Act, included a provision to expedite FTA transit capital grants.

Under Trump, the FTA is disregarding all of these instructions, the GAO reports. And FTA officials admitted to the GAO that they don’t intend to follow through.

According to the GAO, FTA officials said they “did not have immediate plans to address the outstanding statutory provisions” in part because the Trump White House wants to phase out federal transit capital grants entirely. But the president’s wishes are not law.

The White House recommended zeroing out the FTA’s “Capital Investment Grants” program in its first budget request. But Congress went ahead and continued to fund it at $2.6 billion a year — about the same as during the Obama administration.

Even if Trump doesn’t like funding transit, the law is the law, and the FTA still has a legal responsibility to administer the program, GAO warned:

Moving forward, if FTA does not take steps to address the outstanding provisions, FTA runs the risk of violating federal law.

As Streetsblog reported previously, the Trump DOT has dramatically scaled back the issuance of grants for new transit construction. While Congress has continued to appropriate funding, the FTA has advanced only one $25 million transit project from the Capital Investment Grants program — out of $1.4 billion in available funds — since March.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, is also losing patience with the FTA. In a July report (page 74), the committee expressed concern about “unnecessary delays” for transit capital projects.

An FTA spokesperson denied that the agency is deliberately contravening Congress, claiming that transit agencies applying for funds simply hadn’t met the program’s requirements. In response, Beth Osborne of Transportation for America said transit agencies are having trouble merely getting a straight answer from the FTA about what they need to move the projects forward.

T4American has launched a petition drive to pressure the FTA to release the funds.

  • gb52

    So what happens if an agency follows the white house’s direction and fails to follow the law? We would we get if we sued them? Americans are losing money on their investments every day. The costs of construction are rising and people are literally dying because we are not spending money we set aside to fix our aging infrastructure.

  • Southeasterner

    This is an administration that just repealed a bill that they fully admit will lead up to 1,400 premature deaths per year so they can increase the profits of coal producers. What on earth makes you think they care about vehicles falling through old bridges?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Let’s not be paranoid.

    The U.S. Patent Office website was down for more than a week for the first time ever.

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/08/20/uspto_database_issue/

    Ideology and lawbreaking? Possibly. General chaos and incompetence? Certainly.

    Can’t wait to see what a disaster that Census is. Ideologues are focusing on whether asking people if they are citizens (as in the past) is a plot to keep those in Democrat leaning states from answering. But meanwhile, the entire thing is likely to fail.

  • lindsncal

    FACT CHECK: Has Citizenship Been A Standard Census Question?
    The last time the Census Bureau asked all U.S. households a question about U.S. citizenship was in 1950.

  • Matt

    Your point? Its called _progress_ for a reason.

  • lindsncal

    Wrong. It’s called eliminating voters and cutting funds by intimidating them. The census is about numbers of people..nothing else.

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