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Trump Delays More Federal Transit Funds

Photo: Nick Bastion/Flickr

The Trump Administration is ramping up its war on public transit.

The White House has now failed to allocate $1.8 billion for already approved transit construction projects — up from the $932 million that was allocated by Congress for the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, but was not delivered, according to a new report by Transportation for America.

Cities like Phoenix, Minneapolis, Durham and Seattle are waiting for the money.

Just eight projects totaling $532 million have received funds, and many of those — like Caltrain Electrification and the Maryland Purple Line — were holdover projects from the Obama era.

And more money is about to pile up. In the next few months, Congress will likely approve an additional $1.4 billion for transit construction — about the same as last year. Unless something changes soon, the Trump Federal Transit Administration will be hoarding more than $3 billion in already-allocated funds that should be employing construction workers and strengthening the nation's transit infrastructure.

It's part of the Federal Transit Administration's effort to no longer administer transit on a federal level — reminiscent of the EPA also abandoning all of the words represented by its abbreviated name.

"Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects," the FTA wrote in its 2019 recommendations to Congress.

The jokes on cities — federal transit money isn't coming. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
The joke's on cities — federal transit money isn't coming. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
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Such proclamations will concern cities as they move forward with construction that require federal matching grants. And the ongoing lack of support is a concern for Atlanta, which in 2016 voted to raise taxes to fund $2.4 billion in transit investments, including 21 miles of light rail.

The city is counting on federal matching funds to help make the dream a reality, and the Trump Administration's attacks on transit have been a dark cloud hanging over the process, as the city makes its final decisions about which projects will move forward.

FTA officials have denied they are purposely withholding funding. But the numbers speak for themselves. Last year, Congress was so alarmed that it inserted special language in the budget requiring FTA to award at least 85 percent of the funding set between Oct. 1, 2018 and Oct. 1, 2019 by the last day of this year. But Trump's FTA has also demonstrated it isn't committed to upholding other Congressional mandates when it comes to transit.

Acting FTA Administrator Jane Williams claimed recently that "in just the last six weeks" FTA "allocated" $100 million to the Seattle Lynnwood Link Extension light rail line and $99 million for the Santa Ana, California streetcar project. But Williams misspoke, according to T4A; those grants have not been finalized.

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. But Beth Osborne of Transportation for America said transit agencies are having trouble merely getting a straight answer from the FTA about what "requirements" are missing.

If there's a lack of urgency from the Trump White House about transit, it may be connected to a lack of urgency at the Department of Transportation itself. Politico reported Monday that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former employee of the Koch Brothers-funded Heritage Foundation, has been spending a significant amount of time in mysterious private meetings for which no public information is available.

About seven weeks of work time is unaccounted for, Politico's , a Streetsblog alum, reported.

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