Under construction. Photo by Flickr user papahazama.
Under construction. Photo by Flickr user papahazama.

The House yesterday narrowly passed a $154 billion jobs bill that included tens of billions in transportation funding. Largely breaking along the same lines as the stimulus bill earlier this year, the funding works out like so:

  • $27.5 billion for highways
  • $8.4 billion for public transit
  • $800 million for Amtrak

Unlike the Obama administration proposal to allocate $50 billion in competitive transportation grants, this bill mostly allocates along the same lines as the stimulus — mostly through distribution formulas and with most of the money going to state transportation departments that tend to favor highway projects often far from urban areas. Most transit money will be allocated through metropolitan areas also along formula guidelines. Earlier this year, the PSRC distributed over $130 million in stimulus funds.

The Senate will be drafting a bill next year that could move back toward the administration’s goal of a more competitive infrastructure grant process that would likely see better projects receiving funds on merit rather than state politics. That could mean better results for transit. But Senators have more loyalty to their states than to the federal government, so the House bill could simply reflect the political reality.

Either way, more unexpected capital investment for public transit is always good. Based on the earlier stimulus requests, Sound Transit could accelerate construction of a South 200th St stop or North Link to Northgate with some more dollars. Metro could potentially purchase more buses and improve facilities. Local agencies and cities may have new capital projects that weren’t available at the time of the stimulus.

Up to 10% of the transit dollars could be spent on operations costs, according to Streetsblog DC.

28 Replies to “House Jobs Bill: $9.2 Billion for Transit & Amtrak”

  1. A shame only 10% can go to operating. I would imagine few transit agencies are in a position to absorb this funding in capital projects. ST is possibly a notable exception.

    1. Considering at Human Transit, they’re reporting the granddaddy of all transit systems, NY’s MTA, is making drastic cuts to service. Many transit agencies are seeing deeper shades of red than they’re used to.

    2. On the other hand, funding for capital projects frequently means that less service cuts must take place than otherwise because some these projects would have been done as planned with local dollars. So sometimes it’s an accounting issue.

      1. For example metro might be able to get some money for building RapidRide or buying new coaches that otherwise would have taken funds from operations.

  2. In addition to getting rid of the pro-highway bias, I would really like to see the transit funding go primarily to operating service this time, rather than primarily to capital needs. Transit systems around the country are cutting service (I just read about the big MTA cuts in NYC) – we desperately need assistance to keep the buses & trains moving.

    1. While the 10% cap on operational costs means service cuts will remain, this is a jobs bill designed to get the money into paychecks as quickly as possible. Capital projects are a much better way to do this than through operational spending. Perhaps/hopefully future transportation funding bills will include additional transit funds specifically identified to restoration of service cuts.

      1. What good does it do to get more people hired if other people are getting laid off? This move will have the effect of lowering paychecks as people have to take pay cuts to move where the jobs are.

      2. Is there some research you read about this or are you more speculating? The lowest paying job is unemployment insurance.

      3. The problem with spending stimulus funds on expenses is once the funds are spent they are gone, whereas with capital projects you at least have something lasting for your effort.

        It’s actually a tad more complex than that as transfer payments like unemployment and food stamps have a very high multiplier effect and some things like education can be seen as investments as well.

      4. There is still time to contact your US Senators, and Patty Murray will be playing a key role on the senate counterpart to this bill, as chair of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee. I think a few letter, calls, etc can pay off heavily in getting more of the funding in this bill moved to transit (and more to operating expenses, to keep people riding the bus).

  3. I’m just thrilled to see Amtrak getting some extra wiggle room in its budget. This could allow them to repair and bring back into service all the broken and sidelined equipment that’s been losing revenue for years. For the first time in 35 years, someone is taking national passenger rail seriously.

  4. folks … remember that there are about 1000000% more roads (including all of those deteriorating road bridges) in this country than there are transit systems. So roads will ALWAYS get more money.

    However, that being said, I think transit should get a whole lot more than what was given.

    1. and that is a problem. Investing in a transit system which is designed to perpetuate the problems we have today, sprawl, loss of farmland, transfer of wealth to oil producing states etc etc, is not a good plan for the country’s long term financial health.

      1. Indeed, thanks Gary. Continuing support for unsupportable, problem exacerbating and inappropriate transfers of wealth must be dealt with as part of the (so far timid) restructuring of the social/political/economic systems of the 19th and 20th Century.

      2. the problems we have today, sprawl, loss of farmland, transfer of wealth to oil producing states etc

        Why are “sprawl”, “loss of farmland” and transfer of wealth to other states “problems”, and for whom?

        Explain.

      3. Books can and have been written on why sprawl is bad, but it basically boils down to it being inefficient allocation of resources. Increased distances mean higher costs for both transportation (further to go) and distribution (more less efficient centers needed). This applies not only to goods, but also to services such as water, power, telecommunications, garbage disposal etc.

        Then you get into the environmental costs of increased carbon emissions, runoff (both chemicals and particles) and destruction of natural and rural habitat.

      4. Loss of farmland is a problem because agricultural products are still number one in the U.S., and because being able to provide our own food probably tops energy as a national security issue. Our country has incredible natural capital in the things that grow on it.

  5. Is it possible for Metro to use federal money to do something besides buying new buses? How about installing real-time information at the top 100 used bus stops?

  6. You’re right that stimulus funds need to be targeted to capital projects in order to get actual stimulus and increased jobs…

    The trouble with this thinking though can be seen in the result of the Parks Levy recently completed here in Seattle. Plenty of money was spent over 5(?) years to renovate old community centers, build news facilities (like Northgate), and add parks. While that is certainly a benefit to the citizens of Seattle, we now have much higher Operations & Maintenance costs than we did before and no increased revenue sources to help pay for that.

    This in turn makes the effects of the current budget crisis we’re in that much more drastic.

  7. stimulus funds need to be targeted to capital projects in order to get actual stimulus and increased jobs

    Why? If you create service jobs you put a wage earner back into the economy immediately and far less money will likely be siphoned off overseas. Most capital projects are energy intensive (heavy equipment, transport of materials, etc.) which drives up the cost of oil which slows recovery and increases our trade deficit. Plus when you’re talking about mega projects like the deep bore tunnel many (most?) of the bidders are multinational companies that will export much of the design and engineering work (not to mention buying overseas built equipment like European rail cars). Plus even “shovel ready” can take months or years to really ramp up. I don’t disagree that it’s nice to have something tangible to look at and some capital investments save money on operations down the road (smart energy grid, rebuilt bridges, wind turbines) but service jobs and worker training put virtually all of the funds into circuation quickly and also have value that lasts longer than just the jobs program (trained workers, small businesses that continue to hire, cleaner environment, longer equipment life because of better maintenance).

  8. Well this just great. Congress is taking more money it does not have and using it to fund things that the Constitution says it cannot fund. There should be no increase in spending except for the military. In fact most should be cut by 10%. we are making the dollar weaker.

    1. I’m going to let this comment pass, but anyone who responds to it will have their comment deleted. I will not allow every federal spending thread to be hijacked into a Constitutional Law debate.

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