Local transportation advocates are terrified that the pending federal transportation bill could eliminate or drastically reduce funding levels for transit, cycling and pedestrian improvement projects.
Introduced in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, a five-year spending plan totaling $260 billion, would eliminate dedicated funding for public transit. It also would reduce or make optional established funding levels for pedestrian and cycling projects, such as sidewalks and bike paths.
“The proposed House bill would be devastating to metro regions like the Bay Area, particularly when it comes to transit cuts,” said David Goldberg, spokesman for Transportation For America, a national non-profit. “The House has made it clear that local sources need to shoulder more of the load for transit funding, and that could ultimately lead to service cuts, fare increases and deferred maintenance on vehicles.”
Goldberg said about $638 million annually could be withheld to Bay Area transit agencies under the plan.
Republicans say the bill will remove wasteful spending and unnecessary earmarks, eliminate duplicative programs and encourage private-sector growth.
House Speaker John Boehner’s website says the bill “slashes bureaucratic red tape, gives greater control to states and local communities, and ensures taxpayer dollars are spent on high-priority infrastructure projects that support economic growth and job creation — rather than bike paths and beautification efforts.”
However, Drew Hammill, spokesman for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, branded the bill as a purely partisan effort that will kill 550,000 American jobs. And U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood complained Tuesday that the bill “takes us back to the horse-and-buggy era.”
More than 300 amendments have been proposed, but the bill could be approved as early as Wednesday. If authorized, it would be merged with a separate bill making its way through the Senate. While the two-year, $109 billion Senate proposal maintains dedicated transit funding, it too cuts pedestrian and bike programs.
Goldberg said the merged bill would likely contain dedicated transit funding sources, but that it was “anybody’s guess” how much support would remain for other projects.
Ed Reiskin, executive director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said the bill’s passage would jeopardize mass transit improvements and result in more congestion on local roads and highways. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s lead transit planning agency, strongly opposes the bill.
Another possible victim would be the Safe Routes to Schools Program, federal funding to increase safety for students biking and walking to school, said Elizabeth Stampe of Walk SF, a pedestrian advocacy group.
“There would be significant safety impacts for pedestrians if this bill was passed,” said Stampe.
Kit Hodge of the San Francisco Bike Coalition said his organization is appalled by the proposal to strip funding for bike, pedestrian and transit projects.
Local transportation officials are hoping that a bipartisan amendment to the bill will restore dedicated transit funding sources and allow local governments to make decisions on bike and pedestrian improvement expenditures.
The new bill would replace the existing federal transportation funding plan, a six-year program that expired in 2009 and has been renewed temporarily several times since. Previously funded projects such as the Central Subway would not be affected.
Three major Bay Area projects, including the Central Subway and the BART extension to Silicon Valley, received $310 million in pledged funding from the federal government on Tuesday.
The allocations are included in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget and indicate a reaffirmation of the projects. BART to Silicon Valley is in line for $900 million, and the $150 million included in Obama’s budget is part of that funding, said Brandi Childress of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which is working on the project.
“This is exactly what we asked for,” said Childress of the $150 million allocation.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is still waiting to hear back on its $942 million grant request for the Central Subway. The grant is expected to be released in full this year, and the $150 million included in Obama’s budget is part of that funding, agency spokesman Paul Rose said.
A project to add heavy-duty buses and dedicated transit lanes on Van Ness Avenue also received $10 million in pledged funding on Tuesday. That $125 million project, being backed by Muni and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, now has $40 million in committed federal funds.
“These projects will reduce congestion, decrease emissions and improve access to jobs, education and cultural amenities for the communities they serve,” said SFMTA director Ed Reiskin.
$150 million: Funding pledged for BART to Silicon Valley
$150 million: Funding pledged for Central Subway
$10 million: Funding pledged for Van Ness Avenue BRT
Source: Federal Transit Administration