Trump budget threatens key transportation investments

Federal funding was essential to creation of Charlotte’s successful Blue Line light rail project. The project has consistently exceeded ridership projections and, 5 years in, had already resulted in $1.8 billion in private investment in real estate and businesses along the line. (© iStock)

Recent White House budget proposals include major cuts to vital transportation programs that affect communities across the South. These cuts put key economy-boosting, clean transportation projects at risk, directly contrary to President Donald Trump’s promises to substantially increase infrastructure funding. Under the current proposals, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s budget would be cut by $2.4 billion in the upcoming fiscal year, with further cuts made in the current fiscal year that runs through Sept. 30.

“The Trump Administration’s transportation budget proposals take a sledgehammer to programs and projects with a proven track record of success,” said Trip Pollard, leader of SELC’s Land and Community Program.  “These proposals would take us in the wrong direction and are bad for the economy, bad for communities, and bad for the environment. We should be increasing funding for transit and rail rather than slashing it.”

On the chopping block are two important federal programs that provide competitive grants for light rail, commuter rail, bridge, road, and port projects. The Trump administration also proposed zeroing out funding for the majority of long-distance rail service provided by Amtrak.

The Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Program, which includes the New Starts Program, supports projects that provide alternatives to driving like bus rapid transit and streetcars. The administration requests that funds for this program be cut by $447 million in the current fiscal year, then completely eliminated. Yet this program has been critical to a number of successful projects in the South, such as the 2007 launch of light rail in Charlotte. And federal transit funding is an important component of planned expansion of MARTA service in the car-clogged Atlanta area, and for proposed light rail along the Durham-Chapel Hill corridor in North Carolina. Local voters have approved funding for each of these much-needed projects, but these plans may not come to fruition without federal support as well.

Another federal tool to spur transportation and infrastructure work is the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program. TIGER grants are overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation and are awarded to cities, states, and other entities looking to invest in transportation. Under the Trump administration’s proposals, these grants would be eliminated in the current and upcoming fiscal years.

Derailing Amtrak

The federal budget proposed by the White House cuts all long distance rail service, meaning the states in black would have no passenger rail service.

Trump’s budget plan also would eliminate funding for all Amtrak long-distance service outside the Northeast. This would cut six different lines currently serving Virginia alone, and is estimated to reduce or eliminate funding for intercity passenger rail service for half of all Virginians. And according to one calculation, it would mean no passenger rail service in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, or Tennessee.

These drastic budget proposals from the Trump administration will have to be approved by Congress.  Recent reports suggest many of these cuts will have a difficult time passing, given strong public support for rail and transit funding. Many legislators have seen first-hand the positive impact of the threatened programs in the states and districts they represent. SELC will be reminding those decision makers, and their constituents, about how much is at stake in these budget decisions.

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