Trump Shifts Obama Transit Funding to Roads

More than 70 percent of federal multi-modal grants went to roads in the Trump administration, double the Obama proportion.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Add another Obama’s legacy that President Trump is undoing: funding transit and rail projects.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced $900 million in new infrastructure grants on Tuesday for 55 projects in 35 states — and nearly all of them are for highways and bridges in states that supported Trump. And the latest grants continue a three-year gutting of transit funding.

“This is continuing the trend we identified earlier this year,” Transportation For America spokesman Steve Davis told Streetsblog. “This shift already well underway, just cemented with Tuesday’s announcements, and it is as to be expected at this point.”

In the first three fiscal years of the Trump administration, highways, roads and bridges received 70.4 percent of all federal transportation grants, more than double the Obama administration’s 34.8 percent between the 2014 and 2016 fiscal years.

The other modal spending shows the changing priorities of the current president to the last one:

Funding for mass transit? The Obama White House allocated 28 percent of its multi-modal grants. Trump cut that to 8.5 percent.

Rail projects? Obama was at 15.7 percent on roads. Trump is at 9.2 percent.

And bicycle or pedestrian projects? Obama pegged those at 10.5 percent. Trump cut it to zero.

Zero was not the percentage envisioned when the Obama administration launched the federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) initiative to stimulate the economy and offer an alternative to driving in areas with few options.

Trump has turned the progressive transit initiative into another rural roads program that awards his electoral strongholds with porky projects.

Only 28 percent of these federal transportation grants went to states that didn’t vote for Trump, according to Politico. Florida received the most money from the government in FY 2019 or about $62.4 million, followed by North Carolina which got $51.1 million and Maine which hauled in $44.7 million. Kentucky, which has received considerable attention from Chao’s department, received three grants worth a total of $30.4 million or 3.4 percent of the entire windfall.

This year, 68 percent of the grants or $603 million are for roads and bridge projects. The eye-poppingly large awards include $20 million to widen Interstate 64 in West Virginia; $25 million for a mobility and access project for Interstate 65 in Boone County, Ind.; $22.5 million in resiliency improvements along Interstate 95 in North Carolina, and $18 million for the U.S. Route 30 Freeway Extension Project in Canton.

Only a handful of projects are for bus projects, station upgrades, and parks.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has shifted hundreds of millions of dollars in BUILD grants from transit projects to rural roads in the first three years of the Trump presidency.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, under Secretary Elaine Chao, has shifted hundreds of millions of dollars in BUILD grants from transit projects to rural roads in the first three years of the Trump presidency.

Miami is getting $22.4 million for its Underline Miami-Dade County Multi-Modal Mobility Corridor, which will transform a 10-mile stretch under the city’s Metrorail into an urban trail with a bike path, recreational spaces, and canvases for art installations.

Phoenix is collecting $24 million to extend its rail line to Sky Harbor Airport. Baton Rouge can count on $15 million for bus rapid transit. Philadelphia is adding $12.6 million to reopen its Franklin Square Station, which had been closed for 40 years, bringing Camden commuters into Center City.

And as Streetsblog reported earlier this week, there’s a $12 million award for a “Memphis Innovation Corridor” bringing a bus rapid transit route to the University of Memphis which even Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn touted as a “tremendous asset.”

But the larger story is roads and cars — more of them.

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The Red Line bus rapid transit project in Indianapolis, which voters approved as part of a package in November, is one of dozens of projects threatened by Donald Trump's budget proposal. Image: IndyGo

Think of Trump’s Budget as an Attack on Cities

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Yesterday Donald Trump released a budget outline that calls for severe cuts to transit, and the reaction was swift and scathing. The National Association of City Transportation Officials called it "a disaster" for cities. Transportation for America said it was a "slap in the face" for local communities that have raised funds to expand transit.