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Thread: Federal funding shift to transit/rail

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Federal funding shift to transit/rail

    Was at a meeting, discussing road projects, pedestrian amenities and alternate transportation to be planned. Someone mentioned that federal funding sources had shifted priority to prefer some influence of commuter rail and transit rather than just roads. This started a bit of an argument and noone knew what was the case. Any observations or such on the trend?

  2. #2
    Quote Originally posted by JusticeZero
    Was at a meeting, discussing road projects, pedestrian amenities and alternate transportation to be planned. Someone mentioned that federal funding sources had shifted priority to prefer some influence of commuter rail and transit rather than just roads. This started a bit of an argument and noone knew what was the case. Any observations or such on the trend?

    Perhaps the US is not really changing its ways.

    NYTIMES May 12

    The Roads Are Paved With Pork

    An immense pork-laden highway spending bill is trundling through Congress like some surreal demonstration vehicle for the nation's skewed values. The Senate is busy angling to balloon the plan beyond the $284 billion maximum approved by the House, prompting the Bush administration to threaten a veto and gruffly lecture lawmakers against resorting to "accounting gimmicks" that promise "to spend money that doesn't exist." But lawmakers, who have heard those veto threats before, are greedily ignoring lessons in fiscal prudence from a White House that rewrote the book on runaway tax cuts and deficit spending.

    At a moment when the price of the nation's dependence on foreign oil has never been starker, the six-year bill contains an 80-20 spending formula that grossly favors the private automobile over public transit. It continues with a record 3,800 pet projects inserted by House members in their role as self-appointed masters of the transportation universe. Hundreds more are ready for ladling out in the Senate. And despite the deteriorating state of the nation's roads, Congress is not even spending its highway pork on highways. The bill is stuffed with graffiti-elimination plans, snowmobile trails, tourist sidewalks and trolleys, parking garages, and even a national Packard museum, presumably as a memorial to when gas guzzling began in earnest.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I think what this person is speaking about is that federal transportation funding is now more flexible than it used to be. This means that in many places communities and regions have opted to spend some highway dollars on transit.

    This does not however mean that one is a higher priority than the other. Transit funds can also be flexed over to fund highway projects. The point of this is to make funding more flexible to fit the needs and short and long term priorities of all regions.

    Unfortunately, both the transit and the highways systems of this country are still woefully underfunded. This causes places like Michigan which has many freeze thaw cycles which hurt the pavement and need more repair/maintenance and little public transportation (remember this is a state that makes cars, so everyone has an economic incentive to buy new cars here) at a major disadvantage. In addition, Michigan only gets 85 cents of what it sends to Washington for roads given back to it, and with transit it is a dismal 44 cents.

  4. #4
    Cirrus's avatar
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    Roads still get the overwhelming majority of federal surface transportation dollars.

    There is *some* money available for transit projects, but I would not go so far as to say any real "shift" has occurred.

  5. #5

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    What's "pork" to some is significant local amenities to others (not that federal highway funds should be paying for a Packard Museum ). Federal highway mitigation money, for example, helped fund some major open space acquisitions in my region. "This is pork unrelated to highways" one might argue. Perhaps, but it's the original mega highways that encourage low density growth (note my avoidance of the "s" word) that "threaten" the open space anyway.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    What's "pork" to some is significant local amenities to others (not that federal highway funds should be paying for a Packard Museum ). Federal highway mitigation money, for example, helped fund some major open space acquisitions in my region. "This is pork unrelated to highways" one might argue. Perhaps, but it's the original mega highways that encourage low density growth (note my avoidance of the "s" word) that "threaten" the open space anyway.

    I agree. While obviously some of the projects should not be there, a lot of these projects that at first glance seem wrong actually are very important

  7. #7
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    Roads still get the overwhelming majority of federal surface transportation dollars.

    There is *some* money available for transit projects, but I would not go so far as to say any real "shift" has occurred.

    Roads should get the majority of STP dollars because STP is a Federal Highway funding source. Conversely, Transit should get most of the Section 5307 funding as it is a Federal Transit funding source. I do however know dozens of transit projects funded with federal highway funds in my region and know of no instances of federal transit being flexed for highway projects.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian nuovorecord's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner
    Roads should get the majority of STP dollars because STP is a Federal Highway funding source. Conversely, Transit should get most of the Section 5307 funding as it is a Federal Transit funding source. I do however know dozens of transit projects funded with federal highway funds in my region and know of no instances of federal transit being flexed for highway projects.
    Transit gets a pittance of federal transportation funds. Local jurisdictions should decide for themselves how STP dollars are spent in their region. That's in part why the STP pot of funding was created, to give locals the flexibility.
    "There's nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what's right with America." - Bill Clinton.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nuovorecord
    Transit gets a pittance of federal transportation funds. Local jurisdictions should decide for themselves how STP dollars are spent in their region. That's in part why the STP pot of funding was created, to give locals the flexibility.
    Transit gets a pittance?? Detroit urbanized area gets $40 million in section 5307 funds (only 1 percent of trips are made by transit), yet it gets $50 million in STP-Urban funds. STP funds must be used to resurface the roads that 97 percent use to get to work, or to pay for bicycle paths, sidewalks the other two percent use. We typically split our locally available CMAQ (another FHWA flex source) funds up with approximately half going to transit. STP does give locals flexibility, but it is still federal highway's money to account for; in the same fashion Section 5307 is FTA's money, but that is flexible enough to be spent on roadways.

    The point I'm trying to make is both transit and highway systems are woefully underfunded when you consider the beatings that both get from Michigan winters. An arguement can be made 'why does transit get so much, when so few use it?'.

    I'm sure there are differences in this from state to state, heck even congressional districts within a state. All I can do is explain what it looks like here, especially since the pork funds are rarely enough to complete a project, that money has to come from STP or another source.

  10. #10
    Cirrus's avatar
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    The last version of TEA-21 gave $134 billion more to new highway construction than it did to new transit projects. The gap in the next version is likely to be even bigger (in absolute terms, anyway).

    Of course people drive more than they ride transit. We subsidize driving at every level of government far more than we subsidize transit. Detroit is a classic example of the transit catch-22. You stop spending money on it so service gets worse so people stop riding it so you spend even less money on it because there's less demand.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    The last version of TEA-21 gave $134 billion more to new highway construction than it did to new transit projects. The gap in the next version is likely to be even bigger (in absolute terms, anyway).

    Of course people drive more than they ride transit. We subsidize driving at every level of government far more than we subsidize transit. Detroit is a classic example of the transit catch-22. You stop spending money on it so service gets worse so people stop riding it so you spend even less money on it because there's less demand.

    Absolutely both systems are subsizied heavily. In fact I've been spouting a contrarian philosophy as this is what I have to deal with. Highway may be more heavily subsidized than transit, but what if we took the 'gas tax' a user fee paid only by those buying gas, and spent it only on roads? That would help close the gap in subidizing the road side, but the transit side would literally fall apart.

    Such a sort-sighted approach would be a failure. I'm hoping we can get better transit in Michigan by the time I'm too old to drive, but this will mean less transit money available for already built systems. I have four buslines I can take to work, on a good day I can drive to work in 15 minutes, public transit typically takes an hour door to door (6 miles) on a good day, and it has taken up to 2.5 hours on days when transfers have been screwed up.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian ChevyChaseDC's avatar
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    I just returned from APA's legislative and policy conference in DC. Among the bills we lobbied congress for was the reauthorization of TEA-21 (or TEA-LU/SAFETEA), ideally with at least 80/20 split for highway funding and transit funding, and to make transit funding as flexible and reliable as highway funding, with less focus on having to compete with other projects for funds. Unfortunately, the administration intends to veto any bill higher than $284 billion, which is about $100 billion short of the real transportation needs of the country.

    The Brookings' Institution's Bruce Katz, while addressing us at a session, put it bluntly that the federal government "doesn't get it" w/r/t transportation investment in the United States. He asserted that we are "stuck in the '50's", where the primary transportation spending takes place building new highway capacity in exurban and non-metropolitan areas, while other mature industrialized countries focus on "fixing it first" and investing heavily in rail infrastrucutre and metropolitan area mass transit. It's all part of a broader pattern, he asserted, where policy is divorced from reality on the ground, which is hurting our national economic competitiveness. I agree.

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