Dems Release Stimulus Draft: $30B for Highways, $10B for Transit

Via Greater Greater Washington, the Huffington Post is reporting that House Democrats have released a draft summary of an economic stimulus bill, and at first blush there’s little for green transportation advocates to cheer. $30 billion is slated for highways, $10 billion for transit — a marginal improvement over the longstanding 80/20 split in federal funding. Check after the jump for more details.

The transit figure falls short of the $12.5 billion called for by Rep. James Oberstar, and it appears as though none of the funds would go toward desperately needed operating assistance. The money set aside for capital investment, meanwhile, pales beside even conservative estimates of current needs.

There’s no indication yet as to how the highway money would be distributed, but Rep. David Obey, chair of the committee that released the draft, has publicly stated that he wants all of it funneled directly to state DOTs — a recipe for more highway lanes, more traffic, and more pollution.

The document does not mention any dedicated stream for bike or pedestrian projects.

Intercity rail gets $1.1 billion when the northeast corridor alone has a $10 billion backlog according to the feds’ own estimates.

While this draft is certainly headed for significant revisions, as Matthew Yglesias points out, that’s not necessarily good news. Seems like a prime opportunity for soon-to-be-President Obama to show city dwellers that he’s more than just talk when it comes to urbanism.

The Streetsblog Network is all over this story — follow the jump for a sampling of what they’re saying.

The Transport Politic

…overall, the bill lacks any overriding ambition, and seems to be willing to provide only the modicum of funding with little attention to greater goals or even current needs.

Twin Cities Streets for People

If the $30 B in road money is used for maintenance, to prevent
things like future 35-W bridge collapses… and if the other $30 B in
energy-saving infrastructure includes alternative transportation
investments that can help our cities get away from carbon-centered
auto-centered travel… then it looks like a pretty good deal.  Of course, those are two big ‘ifs’

Hugh Bartling

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.

From the bill draft:


To build a 21st century economy, we must engage contractors across
the nation to create jobs – rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges,
modernizing public buildings, and putting people to work cleaning our
air, water, and land.

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.

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.

  • Rhywun

    We can quibble at the split, but really, this money should *not* be used for new projects until the sorry state of our current infrastructure is repaired.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    I couldn’t agree more, Rhywun. No freeways should be expanded until all of our passenger rail lines are upgraded to continuously welded, concrete tied, electrified, fully grade-separated rights of way.

  • neb

    This is not the greatest news, but I’m not ready throw mud at the proposal. The real hope is in how the transportation bill is authorized.

    In some ways, it is good news that the highways portion is only $30 billion. The governors and highway lobby were pushing for much more, as much as $350 billion. And recently a lesser figure was pegged at $75. This is a good article on the issue:

  • AlexB

    Adding up new construction ($2.4B), upgrades and repair ($50B), and transit capital assistance ($15.5B), the total for transit should be $67.9B. If you add $10B for the first phase of the california high speed rail line and $10B to upgrade the northeast corridor (assuming that wasn’t covered under another heading) the total comes to $87.9B. Considering that the $10B they are proposing to spend would pay for just over half of what the second avenue subway was supposed to cost ($16B), $10B seems like a very low total. We have already “loaned” the banking industry $350B, we are planning to spend another $350 on who-knows-what, and are planning to spend over $800B on a stimulus package. At .67% of the total stimuli, and as something known by all to do so much good (good for environment, property values, local economies, combating sprawl, etc., etc.), this is absolutely pathetic.

  • Rhywun


    Sure, I favor transit over roads too, but my point is that the typical American habit of throwing out (or neglecting) the old in favor of the new needs to stop. I’ve been to numerous other countries where both the transit AND the roads are in much better shape than in America, supposedly the richest nation on earth. Our throwaway culture is why we are seeing so much money going to new projects while existing bridges collapse and subway signaling systems catch fire.

  • The “$30 billion for highways” figure may be a bit misleading. It seems probable that the $30 billion will be allocated through Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) programs, and the $10 billion through Fed. Transit Administration (FTA) programs.

    But FHWA’s jurisdiction includes things like the “Transportation Enhancements” and the nonmotorized transportation programs, which can pay for bike paths, traffic calming, and other livable streets projects.

    We’ll still need more details to know for sure, but it seems probable that the $30 billion won’t be entirely dedicated to “roads and bridges” in the conventional sense.

  • Also, the $30 billion for “highways” probably won’t allow states to build lavish new freeways. Here in Maine, for instance, our DOT has a $160 million maintenance backlog just to pave existing roads. But if the $30 billion is split evenly according to states’ populations, Maine only stands to receive about $150 million for road projects – even with a stimulus, we’ll have to triage maintenance work, so new roads are basically out of the question.

    I know that other states are in similar straits with declining gas tax revenues. I’d be pretty surprised if anyone chooses to spend these limited stimulus funds on major new highways, at the expense of continued neglect for existing infrastructure.

  • This is all for “shovel-ready” fast moving projects.

    The real money (and the real battle for transit advocates) will be in the next SAFETEA-LU bill later this year.

    While $10 billion is a disappointing number, this is merely an hors d’oeuvre.

    We should all be beating down the doors of the administration and our congressional delegation with our transit priorities as the SAFETEA-LU bill will set the agenda for transit spending over the next 4-5 years.

    THAT is where the action is.

  • $30B for Highways, $10B for Transit – should be flipped for the new green economy of the 21st century


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