Is the Obama Administration Poised to Push Transit?

While President Barack Obama promoted wind power and cap-and-trade legislation, VP Joe Biden spent Earth Day talking up transit. Public radio’s "The Takeaway"
reports that Biden held a presser at a bus maintenance facility in
Landover, Maryland, to tout a $300 million investment in hybrid buses
and other municipal vehicles as part of the federal stimulus package.
Said Biden:

This program, the Clean
Cities program, is in its 15th year. Already it’s saved two billion
gallons of petroleum used since its inception. And now, it’s time to
ramp it up. Ramp it up in a big way. We know it works.

As
reporter Andrea Bernstein points out, this is not breaking news. What’s
interesting, she says, is the seemingly intensifying focus of the White
House on transit as the fight over the next round of federal
transportation spending approaches.

I
would say that up to now there has been mostly disappointment among
people who care about mass transit in the Obama administration. People
felt that the recovery act only had $8 billion dollars, now that’s $8
billion but it’s $8 billion out of $800 billion, so that’s 1% and
that’s all the money for transit, and they were saying that isn’t
enough money, it doesn’t show a real commitment, you can’t really
change things with that.

So when they begin to see the
administration talking about high speed rail, when they begin to see
the administration talking about mass transit going as Joe Biden did
yesterday to a transit station for his Earth Day thing, they’re
thinking ok, so maybe this administration is going to put serious
muscle behind this. As a reauthorization fight comes up, speaking to a
lobbyist from NRDC who has expressed great disappointment up to now,
and he said you know, I think things may be beginning to turn.

So
what do you think? Are you seeing evidence of an emerging, pro-transit
agenda from DC these days? Could Biden’s enthusiasm over buses and Ray LaHood’s cyclist pledge
be part and parcel of a preemptive push to shake up the asphalt-loaded
federal funding formula — or is the admin simply playing to an
attention-starved constituency?

  • James McMurray

    At face value, $8 billion out of $800 does seem to be miniscule proportionally. However, my understanding is if you consider the $8 billion as a percentage of what was allocated towards transportation projects as a whole, it was somewhere in the 40-60% range. Viewed in this light, $8 billion could be viewed as MAJOR progress, when the historic rates of transit investment haven’t cracked 20% of this country’s surface transportation spending. I believe this also serves as an indicator of where the current administration is heading, but only time will tell.

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