A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking high speed rail from Dallas to Austin, rolling past Mesquite trees and into the Hill County at 200mph. I had the pleasure of doing this because Obama put $47 Billion for high speed rail in his 2013 budget.
Except that didn’t happen of course, because Presidential budgets are generally all smoke and no fire. If there is one thing you can count on from Congress in this polarized age, it’s the ability of habit and inertia to overpower the bluster of the Executive.
Trump’s recent budget was a disaster for transit and red meat to our Manhattanite President’s ironically anti-urbanist Republican base. It sought to zero out long-distance Amtrak funding, cut TIGER and New Starts grants, and even deny those projects in their last few months of project development, leaving projects with nothing after nearly a decade of work. Critically, it not only hung a cloud over ST3, but also threatened ST2 projects such as Lynnwood and Federal Way.
Yesterday, the outlook brightened a bit, with the plan for a Continuing Resolution floating around that would fund the government until September. Fearful of a government shutdown despite universal federal control, Republicans have been cutting deals and ignoring the President’s will. Amidst higher profile squabbles such as Trumpcare and the border wall, most other discretionary spending was retained in a business-as-usual sense. Funding is explicitly retained for Lynnwood Link, the Center City Connector, and SWIFT II. Lynnwood is further along in the New Starts process (Engineering) whereas Federal Way was not mentioned, as it is still technically in Project Development.
Amtrak also retains $1.5B in funding, including the long-distance network. TIGER is funded at $500m, and total transit spending sees a 5.5% boost. There’s no telling what 2018 holds, but for now we may pull back from the edge.