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Clarification on Governor’s Proposal for Active Transportation, High-Speed Rail

On Friday, I reported on Streetsblog California that Governor Newsom's proposed budget included “an additional $500 million for the Active Transportation Program [ATP].” Details were sparse, but it looked like that was the same $500 million he had proposed in January.

It turns out, no - Newsom doubled the amount he is proposing to allocate to the ATP. California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) staff have clarified that the total amount in the active transportation category in the Governor's May proposal is $1.25 billion. That includes an unprecedented $1 billion for the Active Transportation Program, as well as $150 million for a new "highways to boulevards" program and another $100 million for bike and pedestrian safety in the state highway budget.

This is part of a "transportation package" of new programs and projects in Newsom's budget proposal that includes, for example, $1.25 billion for transit and rail projects in Southern California, "to deliver local and regional projects focusing on mobility and greenhouse gas reductions." In January, the total package was for $9.1 billion; this May revision raised that total to $9.6 billion. The package also includes money for the high-speed rail program, and although Newsom did not mention it in his very long presentation on Friday, he is still proposing to release the full $4.2 billion in Prop 1A funds that would complete the Central Valley segment.

Yes, it is interesting that he didn't mention it. Several people, myself included, thought that meant there was no proposal for high-speed rail funding at all, but CalSTA staff clarified that "a technical adjustment on the budget website" moved $3.9 billion in proposed high-speed rail funding between fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23. However, the total proposed amount is unchanged.

Will the legislature release the high-speed rail bonds this year? Will the "package" that now includes $1 billion in ATP funding suffer the same fate it did last year, when negotiations over high-speed rail money came to a halt and sank other funding as well?

No one is telling me where those negotiations are at present. The Governor gets to propose a budget in January, then revise his proposal in May; so far that's what has happened. In the next few weeks, the Senate and Assembly will propose their own budgets.

Then the negotiations will kick into gear. Or perhaps, once again, anti-rail Democrats will dig their heels in and block lots of green transportation money throughout the state.

Note also that in addition to the state funds making up this $9.6 billion package, California is expecting to receive some $38 billion from the federal infrastructure bill in formula funding alone. There will be other pots of discretionary federal funding for specific infrastructure uses including "a new [federal] program to advance transportation infrastructure solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions," according to the USDOT. That future program could be another opportunity to build even more bike, pedestrian, transit and rail infrastructure.

But the huge amount of funding coming to California, if not carefully considered, could also be used to add freeway miles - or to free up other local funding that could be used to build more car infrastructure to enable more driving.

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