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US ‘skinny budget’ proposes huge urban transit cuts

Fort Lauderdale’s Wave Streetcar is just one of over 50 projects in 23 states at risk under the Trump Administration’s ‘skinny budget’ proposals. (Image credit: Wave Streetcar)

The Trump administration has revealed a USD16.2bn allocation for transportation in its FY2018 budget template, a 13% reduction from current funding levels.

In addition to overall cutbacks, the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts grant scheme, responsible for funding many urban transit schemes across the nation and currently budgeted for USD2.3bn annually to 2020, would be cut entirely. Only projects with Full Funding Agreements would be entitled to funding, schemes yet to reach that stage would no long be eligible for grants.

The so-called ‘skinny budget’ also removes around USD500m from the successful Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) programme. Launched by the Obama administration in 2009, TIGER has provided USD5.1bn for more than 400 road, rail and port projects.

Many cities and agencies have lined up local funding commitments for light rail and bus rapid transit schemes under the assumption that it would be complemented by federal match finance. Without such support these projects could be put in jeopardy unless alternatives such as raising taxes, private finance or cutting other local priorities are considered. Dozens of schemes would be affected, including light rail and streetcar projects in cities such as Baton Rouge, Dallas, Durham, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Orlando, Phoenix, Sacramento, Santa Ana, Seattle and Tempe.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has called the draft budget a “disaster for cities and their transportation systems”, while the American Public Transportation Association has said it is “surprised and disappointed” at the proposed budget. APTA figures show that the US Federal Government currently covers 43% of all capital spending for public transit and it is concerned that any cuts will only add to the significant shortfall that already exists.

The FY2018 budget blueprint will now be submitted to Congress and the Senate for further consideration.