The $1.3 trillion spending bill Congress unveiled last night offered renewed hope for transit advocates, who feared the steep cuts initially put forth in the president’s budget proposal.
The bill, which covers spending through the end of September, includes significant increases in transit funding. The Community Development Block Grant program, which many local governments have used to fund streetscaping, cycling, and pedestrian-friendly projects, would receive a significant boost, rising to $3.3 billion from the $3 billion allocated in 2017. Initially, President Trump’s budget called for eliminating the program.
In addition, the bill includes more money for Capital Investment Grants, which help pay for transit projects, increasing spending from $2.4 to $2.6 billion, and would allocate $1.5 billion for the TIGER Grant program, tripling the $500 million spent on the program in 2017. This Obama-era program has been a key tool used by state and local governments to fund new rail and transit expansions.
Congress’s plan may even include limited funding for the Gateway Tunnel project, the rail link between New York and New Jersey that’s been a huge point of contention between Trump and many regional leaders. The President has vowed to veto any bill that includes funding for the vital infrastructure project, which many consider the more important infrastructure project in the country.
The budget proposal would include $540 million for Amtrak to upgrade the Northeast Corridor. Sources tell Politico that money could be directed towards Gateway. That would be a fraction of the total cost of the project, estimated to be $30 billion.
This new infusion of transit funding stands in stark contrast initial White House proposals. Earlier this week, at a press conference held by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), local officials spoke out strongly against Trump’s proposed cuts, saying they would be “debilitating.”
Trump’s recent budget and infrastructure proposals would trim, and in some cases eliminate, federal programs for mass transit. The potential $52 billion in cuts would impact the TIGER program and Capital Investment Grants, as well as funding for Amtrak and the Washington, D.C. Metro system.
APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas said the president’s proposed cuts would endanger 53 projects in the pipeline across the nation, putting 500,000 jobs at risk, including both general construction and related manufacturing jobs.
Congress must pass this bill, or a short-term funding patch, by this Friday to avoid a shutdown.