After expiring over 1,000 days ago, Congress has finally passed a new surface transportation bill. The bill revises federal highway funding streams but does little to change the status qou for transit, maintaining current funding levels. At the beginning hopes were high that a new surface transportation bill would be a bold and progressive vision to build a transportation system for the 21st century. That didn’t happen. The final bill does little to lead the nation in the direction we need to go. The only real win is that the bill isn’t worse than the existing bill. Streetblogs reports:

The best thing one can say about the bill issued by the conference committee last night is that it doesn’t include that draconian measure. But it sure doesn’t do anything to move transit forward in this country.

The bill maintains current funding levels at a time when more Americans are turning to transit but cities can barely maintain their existing services. Ridership has been growing steadily for countless economic and social reasons. But transit agency budgets haven’t grown with it, and Congress, with this bill, is surrendering its chance to help struggling cities and move toward a future where Americans have more transportation options.

The New Starts grant program for transit agencies is maintained. New Starts funding helps build new rail lines and busways. This is where the money to expand transit systems comes from, and it stays flat in this bill. A new subcategory of New Starts will help agencies maintain their existing stock of buses, trains, track, and other capital assets, as long as a 10 percent capacity increase will result from the investment, so there will be some added flexibility in the new bill. But that’s hardly what you’d call progress in an era of rising gas prices and intensifying demand for walkable, transit-oriented places.

6 Replies to “Reauthorization Passes: No Big Changes for Transit”

  1. The New Starts grant program for transit agencies is maintained.

    What is the authorized amount for New Start grants?

  2. According to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington walkers and bicyclists fared pretty poorly in this new bill.

    “The Bicycle Alliance, along with partners nationally are very concerned at the bill’s cuts to funding for popular programs nationwide for Safe Routes to School programs, new sidewalks, and bikeways. At best, programs that previously funded walking and biking will see reduced funding from $1.2 billion per year to only $700 million. Unfortunately, because the new umbrella program called Transportation Alternatives now includes options for states and local governments to use these monies on road projects, and because individual states have the option to opt-out of funding for half of each state’s allocation, the number for walking and biking could dip as low to as $350 million annually”

    1. According to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington walkers and bicyclists fared pretty poorly in this new bill.

      Good news! Maybe one of these years, the bicyclists will get the message that the rest of the public regards them as whiners and free riders. Or maybe they won’t get the news, in which case we’ll keep starving them of funds. Either way is fine by me.

      1. Right, like no one ever walks or bicycles anywhere so no Federal money should be spent on it. We can’t run trains to very neighborhood or buses for that matter, and clearly everybody driving everywhere doesn’t work all the time either. If you want the roads freer for driving, it’s in your interest to get more people out of their cars.

  3. I don’t know if this is completely true. They have expanded TIFIA loans in the bill from $122M to $1B in 2014. This means that if you already have sales tax backing you can build lines faster with federal credit and perhaps save money by doing it faster than otherwise possible. This is what Los Angeles is going to use to push forward their system plans. in 10 years instead of 30 substantially reducing costs.

    1. I wonder if this can be used for intercity projects. (Probably only in New Jersey, the only state with a transit system which is unified statewide.)

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