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US Congress rejects ‘skinny budget’ transit cuts

President Trump’s proposed reduction in funding for urban transit directly conflicts with the policies of former President Obama, seen here visiting the Minneapolis Green line depot. The Green line was built with Federal assistance. (Image courtesy: Metro Council)

US Congressional leaders unveiled a spending deal on 1 May that includes increased funding for transportation projects intended for significant cuts in the new administration’s draft budget (TAUT 953).

Ignoring President Trump’s calls for a ‘a streamlined DOT that is focused on vital Federal safety oversight functions and investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects,’ and plans for a greater involvement of the private sector in transportation projects, the FY2017 omnibus spending bill proposes USD19.3bn for the Department of Transportation (DOT), a USD681m increase on current funding levels and USD6.2bn below the president’s request.

The bill provides a total of USD12.4bn for transit projects, USD657m above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and USD7.5bn below the president’s request. A summary sheet for the plan said that “grant programmes totalling USD9.7bn will help local communities build, maintain, and ensure the safety of their mass transit systems,” Within this total, USD2.4bn is provided for Capital Investment Grants – an increase of USD236m – including a guaranteed USD1.5bn for all projects with Full Funding Grant Agreement status. Core capacity projects receive USD333m under the bill, and USD408m is allocated to state and local Small Starts projects due to begin in 2017.

The omnibus bill would also preserve the current USD500m for 2017 for the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) programme, which President Trump’s draft budget proposed eliminating in its entirety.

The summary sheet added that “transit ridership remains high, with over 10.5bn trips per year… but transit systems across the country are struggling to keep up with maintenance while also expanding their systems in order to meet current demand. These projects help ease commute times, save fuel, reduce emissions, and connect Americans to opportunities for work and services that they need every day.”

The White House is due to release its full FY2018 budget proposal, which will include proposed funding levels for public transportation programmes in late May.