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Trump’s Budget Takes an Axe to Transit

9:42 AM PDT on March 16, 2017

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

The Trump administration has released its budget blueprint [PDF], and it's a bloodbath for everything that's not defense spending. In keeping with the budget's general hostility to cities, transit would be hit especially hard.

The Trump budget would eliminate funding for transit expansion projects unless a funding agreement is already in place, the Washington Post reports. For transit projects that have yet to reach that stage, funding from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program -- currently budgeted for $2.3 billion annually through 2020 [PDF] -- would no longer be available.

Many cities have lined up local funding for rail and bus rapid transit projects under the assumption that it would be complemented by federal support. Without the New Starts funding, these projects will be in jeopardy as cities and transit agencies fend for themselves, either raising taxes, cutting other local priorities, or abandoning the expansion projects altogether to compensate. Dozens of projects would be affected:

The New Starts transit program only accounts for about 5 percent of federal surface transportation spending. The Trump budget outline doesn't touch the lion's share of those funds, which go to state DOTs to spend as they wish -- mainly on roads.

Trump's budget would also eliminate funding for TIGER, a smaller $500 million program initiated by the Obama administration to provide direct access to federal transportation funds for cities, transit agencies, and other local entities. Relative to overall federal spending, TIGER has paid for more walking, biking, and transit projects, such as Indianapolis's Cultural Trail and Tampa's Riverwalk. When Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had her confirmation hearing before Congress a few months ago, she said Congress members told her it was their favorite program.

Eliminating federal subsidies for transit has long been a goal of hard-right ideologues -- but in the past these attempts have failed in Congress. Swing votes in the suburban ring of major cities that count on transit -- including some Republican districts -- have helped fend off the worst attacks. They will have to be mobilized again to stop this one.

More recommended reading today: Systemic Failure breaks down Ford CEO Mark Field's assertion that fuel economy standards will cost a million jobs. And Price Tags writes that some residents of Sandusky, Ohio, are upset about plans to transform an industrial pier into park space -- because 40 waterfront parking spaces will be eliminated.

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