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Investing in Transit: Investing in America

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Colorado's Roaring ForK Transportation Authority's VelociRFTA bus rapid transit service is one of the projects receiving federal funds

Colorado's Roaring ForK Transportation Authority's VelociRFTA bus rapid transit service is one of the projects receiving federal funds

On Monday, Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $1.58 billion in funding for 27 major transit projects. The funding is from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, which provides capital funding for new or expanded transit construction projects including light rail, streetcars, subways and bus rapid transit projects. Projects receiving funding range from new systems in smaller regions, like a bus rapid transit line in Roaring Fork Valley, CO, to major investments in established transit regions such as New York and Salt Lake City.  A complete list of funded projects can be found here.

Reconnecting America commends the Obama Administration and Congress for these investments, which will help improve access to jobs and opportunity for residents in regions across the country. Transit investments like these create jobs – more jobs in fact than road building projects – and are thus critical for regions aiming to bolster their economies. By serving as a backbone around which regional growth can occur, transit investments like these can also be transformative for regions trying to tame sprawl and congestion. Many of the funded transit projects, like the West Corridor Light Rail project in Denver and the Central Corridor Light Rail in St. Paul-Minneapolis, will also provide critical transportation links for middle and lower-income families, for whom affordable connections to jobs and services can mean the most. 

Despite the myriad benefits that transit brings to communities and the vast demand for transit funding nationwide, the federal New Starts program is at risk to be significantly cut in the federal fiscal budget for 2012. The House has proposed steep cuts to the program that would mean that the government would not be able to meet their ongoing funding commitments to many of these transit projects, let alone invest in other worthy projects across the nation. In a national review conducted last year, Reconnecting America identified 643 fixed-guideway transit projects that are being considered or planned in 106 regions across the country.  The total known price tag for these projects is an estimated $233 billion. The total cost could in fact be 50 to 60 percent higher since only 64 percent of the transit projects catalogued have cost estimates. At the current rate of federal funding for projects like these, it will take 73 years to fund all the nation’s planned transit lines – and that is without considering the cuts that Congress is currently contemplating. With regions around the nation searching for ways to combat sprawl and stabilize their economies, this begs the question: can America really afford to wait this long for transit?