Is Transit a Priority for Nancy Pelosi?

480962177_c6fd7c8917.jpgPelosi helps cut the ribbon at the grand opening of Muni’s T-line. Photo: kitetoa/Flickr

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco claims she is committed to
public transit and reducing motor vehicle congestion. In a speech to the Regional Plan Association (RPA) last April she said her flagship issues as speaker are energy independence and reducing global warming.

infrastructure choices will help determine whether people can choose
alternatives to driving their cars," Pelosi told the RPA convention.
"In Congress, we
are leading by example with a ‘Green the Capitol’ initiative that will
make our complex a model of green infrastructure and environmental

If that’s the case, why didn’t Pelosi fight for public transit in the stimulus bill passed in the House yesterday,
instead of a meager $9 billion that only rose to the original $12
billion because of an amendment by Rep. Jerry Nadler? Why is
transportation spending so highway heavy at $30 billion? 

"This is not all we’re going to do," said Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew
Hammill. "We know we can’t do everything in one bill and there’s
restraints on what we can spend. She said we have to do something to
quickly turn around the economic situation. The number one priority
here is turning the economy around."

actually said the $12 billion is "a huge step forward for public
transit." In California, under the stimulus bill, about $950 million
will be allocated as transit capital, compared to $2.7 billion for
highways and bridges.

"This is a bill about the future,"
Pelosi said today at a news conference with fellow Democrats. "It is a
bill that will guarantee that we will create jobs, that there will be
good paying green jobs that will transform our infrastructure,
transform our energy and how we use it and our dependence on foreign

Let’s hope Pelosi really means what she
says about her commitment to fighting global warming and getting people
out of their cars when Congress takes up the re-authorization of the
Transportation Equity Act.

Story written by Bryan Goebel

  • I think, for a lot of reasons, we expected this to be a $500-600 billion investment primarily in infrastructure. As much as I would like to see that I’m sensitive to the argument that maybe a short-term economic stimulus plan isn’t the way we rebuild America. The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System wasn’t built in 2 years.

    I think if we’re going to drop that amount of money into infrastructure we need to be prepared to use the money efficiently.

    We need to alter outdated transportation plans, which are predicated on old books and federal contribution assumptions. Policies need to change, including some aspects of NEPA to bring the projects online more efficiently and quickly.

    Simply it’s going to take some time.

    But it all starts with a firm commitment. We need the feds to commit to $1.5-2 trillion in infrastructure from ’11-’16 the locals can plan accordingly, and be ready to rejoin the rest of the 1st world.

    And we need to think big:
    -More subways in NYC and LA.
    -Maintenance and some expansion of the Metros of D.C., Chicago and Boston.
    -Maybe even $100 billion for high-speed starter lines on the East Coast, Midwest and California.
    -Beefing up our West Coast ports so we can continue the flow of commerce from Asia.
    -And in the name of all that is Holy, let’s rebuild New Orleans.

    That said, there are plenty of transit projects that are ready-to-go (in the next 6 months), and there’s a backlog of maintenance that could have been included in this stimulus, and hopefully will be included through the Senate. I’m perplexed how a $825 billion measure becomes unaffordable at $900 billion, especially since the best defense against Republicans calling this a liberal spending spree are structures.

  • Wad

    Damien Goodmon wrote:

    I think if we’re going to drop that amount of money into infrastructure we need to be prepared to use the money efficiently.

    The problem is that the federal dictates, by their existence, will not allow for this to happen.

    I recently talked this over with a Portland transit blogger about how state and especially federal subsidies handcuff transit agencies because of all the controls on how money is spent.

    For instance, the FTA requires paperwork and auditing controls on both its part and the agencies’. This tracking adds to the process and is a tax on both parts, and the subsidies are lost in just making sure the books are in order. It is done twice, once by the FTA and once by the agencies. This is the equivalent of heat loss when transmitting electricity over a long range.

    The other problem is the spending diktats. The “Buy America” provisions are more burden than a boom. They neither help create nor preserve jobs, especially not when the economics no longer support such a law. The biggest capital outlay is bus purchases. The U.S. has only one American-based and -made full-size bus builder. However, its competitors include two Canadian companies and one Hungarian firm.

    All the foreign firms had to set up factories in the U.S., just to have buses built to comply with the 60 percent assembly requirement.

    This is a duplication of work, and only makes every bus cost more. Transit agencies could get a better deal if they were able to get buses built at the point of origin — especially at the time when there was a huge spread between the U.S. and Canadian dollars or the Hungarian forint — and still provide jobs because the buses would need to be maintained locally.

    Or, the private sector figured out a long time ago that fixed assets like heavy machinery are drains on the budget. Transit agencies should move to leasing deals rather than buying buses.

    Rail projects are a different matter entirely. Urban rail has been done all wrong in the U.S. Every project is custom-built to the areas they serve. The San Diego model should have been the way to build light rail, but essentially every project is a custom job. Even San Diego has abandoned the San Diego model.

    The agencies, and not the FTA, should agree to a common design standard for all projects in the future. This would bring all costs down and allow for system interoperability.

    It’s amazing how everyone, from the riders to the powers that be, wants transit to be affordable yet no one is willing to take the steps to make sure that we get it.


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