Senate’s New DOT Spending Bill Eases One Transit Funding Barrier

artist’s rendering of the proposed multi-modal Columbia River Crossing,
with light rail and a bike path beneath the bridge. (Photo: Oregonian)

During the lengthy process
of pursuing a "New Starts" funding agreement with the U.S. DOT, local
transit officials are often at the mercy of cost-benefit calculations
that have failed to keep pace with evolutions in transport planning.
But one aspect of that slog could soon change, thanks to Sen. Patty
Murray (D-WA).

When evaluating a bid for federal aid by the Columbia River Crossing
(CRC), a proposed multi-modal road and light rail link between Portland
and Vancouver, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) decided to
treat the broad project as separate highway and transit efforts —
effectively prohibiting state gas taxes and proposed bridge tolls from
counting towards the local share of the CRC’s transit costs, as the
Oregonian reported.

Murray fired back by using
her power as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s
transportation panel to insert a relevant provision in the DOT’s 2010
budget. Her language requires the FTA to calculate the local share of
multi-modal transit proposals based on "all local funds incorporated in the unified finance plan" for the project.

move, if it survives a conference with the House, should ensure that
the CRC’s FTA pitch is evaluated using more appropriate math. Yet
Murray’s language would apply across the board, meaning that other
regional transport plans blending roads and transit could have an
easier time winning federal money for the latter portion of the project
— as opposed to just the former.

(h/t Twitter user @cwsjd99)

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    I thought I had read in Oregon blogs, some linked from Streetsblog, that the Columbia River Crossing was a needless sprawl-inducing highway mega project, with the transit component tacked on to appease interest groups. Is this project now thought to be a good thing?

  • Be careful what you wish for.

    Bundling local financial matches for tangentially related grab-bags of projects leads to disasters like BART to Millbrae (bundled into a fictional and fraudulent MTC “regional rail plan” in the 1990s, which was oh-so-coincidentally gutted of its Caltrain component the month after BART scored its local-match-enabled federal earmark pork $750 million) or the appalling Muni Central Subway (which SFCTA pretends is “phase two” of the non-performing Third Street light rail line, and hence the federals should step in to throw a billion of on top of what we’ve already wasted locally), etc.

    Further easing the accounting fictions which enable pork-barrel megaprojects to evade even the semblance of federal cost-benefit analysis — which is what this is all about, by increasing fictional “local matches” above the threshold at which FTA will write blank checks no questions asked — doesn’t serve the cause of improving transit at all.

    Good money shouldn’t always follow bad down the gurgling drain of poorly-conceived, over-priced, inefficient mega-projects. Even when a project is greenwashed as “transit”.

  • Mara

    The Columbia River Crossing is still a needless sprawl-inducing highway mega project. The transit component is an important part of a regional multi-modal system, but it doesn’t justify spending $4 Billion, most of which is for freeway and interchange expansions.


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