Tuesday’s Headlines: Congress Do Your Friggin’ Job Edition

There's Chuck Schumer on the subway!
There's Chuck Schumer on the subway!

Will this be Infrastructure Week or Infrastructure Weak?

Congress is reportedly close to passing a $580 billion version of the $2 trillion infrastructure bill that Amtrak Joe initially pitched this spring. According to the Times, it’s missing the climate initiatives, child-care spending, and education programs that made the legislation truly transformational — those are supposed to come in a complementary bill immediately after the infrastructure legislation. (“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” President Biden warned.) But it’s still said to contain $65 billion for broadband; $201 billion for water, sewer, and power upgrades, and $66 billion for new rail construction. So what’s the holdup?

According to the Washington Post, Republicans and Democrats “remain locked in a dispute over the ratio of highway to transit funding, according to aides familiar with the negotiations.”

“In the past, the federal government has given transit roughly a dollar for every four that highways receives, but both sides have accused the other of trying to alter that convention in the current talks,” the report stated.

Last week, WaPo’s transportation reporter Ian Duncan had a good breakdown of how that ratio has fluctuated during the past few months as negotiations have dragged on: under Biden’s initial plan it was 68-32, then it was 75-25, and now it may be closer to 80-20, back where we started.

The overall spending ratio is still up in the air, but so is the amount that the MTA would receive from the package. Republicans are arguing that the billions in COVID relief that Congress passed earlier this year was enough, although the MTA’s operating budget, which remains decimated by a pandemic-induced drop in ridership, says otherwise.

“There are a lot of outstanding questions for riders here at home that we’d really love answers to,” Danny Pearlstein of The Riders Alliance told Streetsblog. “Building more roads will not solve anyone’s problems. New York’s transit system is on life support. The MTA’s capital needs are immense, and without frequent transit service, New York’s pandemic recovery will falter.”

Pearlstein and other advocates are also pushing Congress to support a transit-relief bill sponsored by Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, which would provide $80 billion in nationwide aid over four years, with $3 billion a year going to the MTA.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is supposed to be New York’s ace in the hole in these situations. His office did not immediately respond for a request for comment.

In other news:

  • Doug Gordon has an essay in the New Republic that grapples with a big question: If the pandemic supposedly changed everything, why are we still insistent on ruining cities with automobile congestion?
  • Traffic across MTA bridges and tunnels is back to October 2019 levels, reports The City’s Jose Martinez. And while drivers are belching particulate matter into our atmosphere, the wildfire smoke is back:

  • Pittsburgh has attempted to bundle all its car alternatives into 50 different sites across town  — where you can hop on a bus, grab a bike share, get on a moped, etc. — but CityLab reports that the results are mixed. Streetsblog USA’s Kea Wilson had more on the “Move PGH” program earlier this month.
  • A truck full of peppers overturned on the BQE early Monday morning (yes, the same, dangerously decrepit BQE that is waiting for Mayor de Blasio to do something, anything about it). The Post went with “Stoppage and Peppers,” the Daily News didn’t even try, with “Produce floods…” zzzzzzzzzz. The winner here was NBC with the perfect deadpan: “The BQE Is Covered In Peppers, Seek Alternate Routes.”
  • A lifeguard at Jones Beach apparently was bitten on the leg by a shark early on Monday, but did not sustain serious injuries. (This can’t be good for the current lifeguard shortage.) Gothamist’s Jake Offenhartz worked on his day off to get us the story.

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