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Trump Administration Continues Funny Business with Transit Funding

10:40 AM PDT on March 19, 2019

Almost $3 billion in transit funding that is supposed to be improving transit for American taxpayers is instead languishing in a strange state of political purgatory in the Trump administration's Federal Transit Administration.

Congress has allocated about $4 billion for new transit projects since 2017. But the federal Department of Transportation has handed out just 30 percent of the available funds. About $2.7 billion remains to be distributed to more than two dozen cities that are expecting grants.

As a result, many projects are experiencing costly delays, said the advocacy group Transportation for America. The Indianapolis Red Line bus rapid transit, for example, has reportedly been delayed by the federal funding slowdown.

The Federal Transit Administration, T4A says, is "failing to administer the grant program in good faith and in a timely fashion."

It's unclear if the delay is caused by dysfunction or by ideology. But the Trump Administration has targeted the Capital Improvement Grants program, which provides the bulk of the federal funding for large new transit projects.

In its previous two budgets, the Trump Administration called for eliminating the program. Its most recent budget instead called for reducing it severely. The attack is based on the right-wing talking point that transit is an inherently local concern — and therefore not deserving of federal funds — while highway repair and construction are national issues.

The Administration did release some funding near the end of last year for projects in Los Angeles and Albuquerque — but is still woefully behind.

"The U.S. Department of Transportation under Secretary Elaine Chao’s leadership has empowered President Trump’s strange crusade against transit funding," Transportation for America's Sean Doyle wrote in the group's most recent update.

The Federal Transit Administration is facing an end-of-year deadline for administering 80 percent of the money. The deadline was specially written into a recent appropriations bill to force the agency to issue the money Congress allocated it.

Among the projects waiting on funding are Milwaukee's East-West bus rapid transit, Minneapolis's Orange Line bus rapid transit, Los Angeles's Purple Line Subway Extension and Seattle's Center City Connector Streetcar.

In the past, the Federal Transit Administration has denied it is withholding money from projects and blamed applicants for the delays — or denied there has been any delay.

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