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.