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President Trump Has Starved Transit Agencies of $854M

5:43 PM PDT on July 17, 2019

Photo: Valley Metro

The Trump Administration has been starving shovel-ready transit projects of money that Congress had specifically made available — an "unlawful" form of foot-dragging that has cost local transit providers more than $850 million, according to the latest Congressional report that again confirms what transit agencies and advocates have long known.

Streetcars, bus rapid transit, light rail projects have seen their wait time for federal construction funding more than double under the Trump Administration's Federal Transit Administration, according to data provided by the agency itself [PDF]. The slowdown occurs even though Congress has, throughout the Trump Administration, continued to fund transit capital projects at Obama-era levels, about $2.6 billion annually.

Large transit projects waiting for a "full funding grant agreement" — money to start construction — now wait an average of 391 days, up from 176 days during the Obama administration. The administration is simply withholding the already approved money.

All that waiting is expensive. Congressional analysts estimate the Trump Administration slowdown has led to $845 million in extra costs for transit agencies. Federal delays and tougher financing rules, for example, may add as much as $170 million to the cost of the Lynnwood Link Light Rail project in Seattle, Mike Lindblom, the Seattle Times' transportation reporter told Streetsblog.

In a Congressional hearing on Tuesday, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) called the Trump Administration's actions "unlawful."

"These additional costs were generally covered by local governments, forcing them to scramble to pay for federal inaction," he said. "These unnecessary costs could have instead funded several more transit projects."

What's worse, it appears that the sabotaging of transit projects by the Trump Administration was intentional. In his budget requests to Congress, Trump has repeatedly called for phasing out the "Capital Investment Program," which funds new transit projects. Congress, however, ignored his request and continued funding the program at Obama-era levels.

As a side note, Trump's Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, has been under fire recently for ethics issues. She has reportedly used her authority to help advance funding to transportation projects in Kentucky, to boost political support for her husband, Senator Mitch McConnell.

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