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Trump’s Federal Transit Administration Has Gone Rogue

Federal approval means that construction can proceed on the third phase extending the Metro Purple Line. Photo: Wikimedia

Donald Trump's U.S. DOT is refusing to do its job when it comes to transit, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office [PDF]. The GAO says the agency is failing to follow through on key provisions of the last two federal transportation bills, yet more evidence that under Trump, federal officials are obstructing programs intended to improve transit in American cities.

MAP-21, the transportation bill enacted in 2012, instructed the Federal Transit Administration to develop a mechanism to grant transit agencies funds for multiple, "interrelated" projects at the same time. This could spur agencies to think about transit expansion in terms of networks, not just single routes.

The same bill also told the FTA to streamline the approval process for "Core Capacity" grants, which agencies use to rehab existing infrastructure like tracks and signals. In addition, the 2015 transportation bill, known as the FAST Act, included a provision to expedite FTA transit capital grants.

Under Trump, the FTA is disregarding all of these instructions, the GAO reports. And FTA officials admitted to the GAO that they don't intend to follow through.

According to the GAO, FTA officials said they "did not have immediate plans to address the outstanding statutory provisions" in part because the Trump White House wants to phase out federal transit capital grants entirely. But the president's wishes are not law.

The White House recommended zeroing out the FTA's "Capital Investment Grants" program in its first budget request. But Congress went ahead and continued to fund it at $2.6 billion a year -- about the same as during the Obama administration.

Even if Trump doesn't like funding transit, the law is the law, and the FTA still has a legal responsibility to administer the program, GAO warned:

Moving forward, if FTA does not take steps to address the outstanding provisions, FTA runs the risk of violating federal law.

As Streetsblog reported previously, the Trump DOT has dramatically scaled back the issuance of grants for new transit construction. While Congress has continued to appropriate funding, the FTA has advanced only one $25 million transit project from the Capital Investment Grants program -- out of $1.4 billion in available funds -- since March.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, is also losing patience with the FTA. In a July report (page 74), the committee -- which is bipartisan -- is concerned about "unnecessary delays" for transit capital projects.

An FTA spokesperson denied that the agency is deliberately contravening Congress, claiming that transit agencies applying for funds simply hadn't met the program's requirements. In response, Beth Osborne of Transportation for America said transit agencies are having trouble merely getting a straight answer from the FTA about what they need to move the projects forward.

T4American has launched a petition drive to pressure the FTA to release the funds.

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