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Transit Fares Surprisingly Well in House Spending Bill

If it passes the Senate, the House spending package will increase funding for transit expansion projects. Photo: King County

With Donald Trump in the White House and unified Republican control of Congress, it's an uncertain time for American transit agencies.

The president's budget proposals have called for dramatically slashing federal transit funding, and his DOT has been slow to release transit grants that were supposed to be done deals, threatening projects all over the country.

But even in these circumstances, the budget deal released by the House of Representatives not only keeps transit whole, it actually raises funding. With some hard-right House Republicans refusing to support the package, Democrats were able to secure some spending priorities in return for their votes.

The Federal Transit Administration would get a $1 billion budget boost to $13.5 billion annually. Of that funding, $10.3 billion would be distributed by formula to transit agencies. Another $2.65 billion would be divvied up as grants to support specific transit capital improvements and expansions.

The funding level for transit capital projects is especially high compared to recent years, according to transit analyst Yonah Freemark:

Cities that have recently voted to increase local taxes to expand and improve transit -- including Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Seattle -- should be able to proceed with those projects as planned if this budget passes. It should also reassure cities like Nashville, where voters will head to the polls this spring to decide on a transit expansion package.

The House budget also triples funding for the TIGER program to $1.5 billion. Under Trump, however, TIGER has become a much more conventional road funding program than it was under the Obama administration, when the funding mix was tilted more toward walking, biking, and transit projects.

In addition, the bill maintains $1.3 billion in annual support for Amtrak while adding $650 million for upgrades to the Northeast Corridor, some of which could support the Gateway tunnel linking New Jersey and Manhattan. The bill would also include $35 million to restore service along the Florida Gulf Coast. (Trump had singled out Amtrak for $650 million in cuts.)

Finally, the package would provide $250 million for positive train control, following several years where Congress didn't supply a penny to fund its mandate for this railroad safety tech.

The House spending bill appears to be on track to clear the Senate by the end of the week, averting a government shutdown, though nothing is assured.

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