Congressional Democrats have just released some detailed numbers that will form the basis of economic stimulus legislation that Obama wants to sign into law by mid-February. It will be interesting to see the reactions from reform groups, like those associated with Smart Growth America, who have likely been directly involved in Congressional discussions.
Nonetheless, here are some initial impressions about the transportation element.
Highway Infrastructure: $30 billion for highway and bridge construction projects. It is estimated that states have over 5,100 projects totaling over $64 billion that could be awarded within 180 days. These projects create jobs in the short term while saving commuters time and money in the long term. In 2006, the Department of Transportation estimated $8.5 billion was needed to maintain current systems and $61.4 billion was needed to improve highways and bridges.
The devil, of course, is in the details. It appears that the $64 billion figure for “shovel ready” projects comes from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I am not familiar with their study, but some of the statements coming from AASHTO officials suggest that highway expansion and new roads are heavily weighted in this figure. As Transportation for America implies, maintenance money for bridges and highways should be prioritized over new road and highway construction. Using the stimulus package to exacerbate sprawl will simply cause further air quality and carbon emissions further down the line.
Transit: Public transportation saves Americans time and money, saving as much as 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline and reducing carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons each year.
· New Construction: $1 billion for Capital Investment Grants for new commuter rail or other light rail systems to increase public use of mass transit and to speed projects already in construction. The Federal Transit Administration has $2.4 billion in pre-approved projects.
· Upgrades and Repair: $2 billion to modernize existing transit systems, including renovations to stations, security systems, computers, equipment, structures, signals, and communications. Funds will be distributed through the existing formula. The repair backlog is nearly $50 billion.
· Transit Capital Assistance: $6 billion to purchase buses and equipment needed to increase public transportation and improve intermodal and transit facilities. The Department of Transportation estimates a $3.2 billion maintenance backlog and $9.2 billion in needed improvements. The American Public Transportation Association identified 787 ready-to-go transit projects totaling $15.5 billion. Funds will be distributed through the existing formulas.
Amtrak and Intercity Passenger Rail Construction Grants: $1.1 billion to improve the speed and capacity of intercity passenger rail service. The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General estimates the North East Corridor alone has a backlog of over $10 billion.
On the transit/Amtrak side, we continue to see lack of parity with regard to highway financing–approximately $10 billion. What is interesting is to note the disparities between the demand for financing and what is proposed in the bill. Whereas the bill gives about half of the financing needed for highway projects, in the areas of transit upgrade/repair and Amtrak, the proposed federal contributions are rather minimal.
It is also interesting to note that the $10 billion figure is significantly lower than what Rep. James Oberstar–head of the House Transport Committee–had been calling for in recent days. He called for $12.5 billion for transit, $3.4 billion for high speed rail, and $1.5 billion for Amtrak.
It appears that this document is from the House side–it remains to be seen what the Senate will come up with.