As a daily commuter in the Bay Area, I have been excited at the prospect of improved public transportation here. The high speed rail, the BART extension, the subway in San Francisco.
I was doubly excited to hear Obama’s commitment to national infrastructure improvement during his State of the Union.
Now to hear that Congress wants to cut this funding, affecting us here in the Bay Area, I must call upon my fellow Bay Area Commuters to go to support Obama when he comes to meet high tech business leaders on Thursday, February 17.
Original article posted By Gary Richards on Mercury News
One day after the Federal Transit Administration announced it would give the BART extension to San Jose $130 million as a down payment on $900 million in aid from Washington, political reality set in.
The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee now recommends slashing funds to new rail lines by 22 percent — cuts that could slow the flow of money for BART and 27 other projects across the country.
“Obviously, any of their cuts would set us backwards rather than going forward,” FTA administrator Peter Rogoff said Tuesday from Washington, D.C. “We want to work with the House Republicans on deficit reduction, but we are heading in opposite directions on infrastructure and investment.”
President Barack Obama’s budget calls for $3.2 billion for new rail lines across the country, up from $2 billion this year. San Francisco’s Central Subway line would get $200 million, with Sacramento in line for $50 million for light rail.
The Republican budget proposal set off a flurry of angry responses Tuesday. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, called it “another example of mindless budget slashing. We can’t win the future if we don’t have a 21st-century transportation infrastructure to take us there.”
William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said, “None of these cuts makes sense.”
Added Randy Rentschler of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Oakland, which allocates federal and state money to the nine counties in the region: “It is areas such as the Bay Area who need a balanced transportation system and who would be affected most by this proposal. We need more, not less funding.”
Easing the potential pain for transit agencies is the freeing up of $350 million in federal aid after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blocked construction of a commuter rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan. This would have been one of the largest transit projects in the country, and nearly $9
billion of the $12.7 billion construction costs had been covered.But Christie canceled the project because it would have meant borrowing funds or raising the gas tax to cover the difference — moves he refused to make.
Michael Burns, the general manager of the Valley Transportation Authority that will build the BART extension, took heart, saying that even with the Republican budget proposal, nearly 80 percent of the new train program would be funded.
“This demonstrates that the new starts program has solid bipartisan support,” Burns said.
But issues remain, from opposition to increasing spending to questions about where Obama’s ambitious transportation budget would get more revenue.
It calls for spending $556 billion over the next six years. But only $230 billion would be covered by gas tax revenues over that period, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“How does the president propose to bridge the $326 billion funding shortfall?” asked Ken Orski, editor and publisher of a widely read transportation newsletter and the associate administrator of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
Last fall a panel of 80 transportation experts that included Norm Mineta, the director of transportation under President George W. Bush and a former congressman from San Jose, estimated that an additional $134 billion to $262 billion must be spent per year through 2035 to rebuild and improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure.
Locally, said Honda, that must mean delivering on the promise of federal money for BART.
“The long-awaited BART to Silicon Valley project is too important for businesses and jobs in our communities to be put in danger by political gimmicks,” Honda said, “and I will fight tooth and nail to make sure it gets the federal funds that it deserves.”