Trump’s proposed cuts to federal transit funding will harm American cities
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As the mayor of a fast-growing city, I know firsthand how important efficient transportation is to fostering economic growth and great neighborhoods. 

As more people and businesses move into city centers, elected leaders and planners keep pace by building dependable, convenient transportation systems that provide cost-effective choices for people.

In Kansas City, this includes roads, buses, bike lanes, sidewalks and a streetcar.

That’s why I was excited to hear President Trump speak enthusiastically on the campaign trail about investing in infrastructure.

The vision for infrastructure that he touted on the stump extended well beyond roads, bridges and tunnels. “We have to spend money on mass transit,” Trump said in an interview with The Guardian in late 2015. “We have to fix our airports, fix our roads also in addition to mass transit, but we have to spend a lot of money.”

 

As a builder and a New Yorker, Trump the candidate seemed to understand the value of public transit in creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity. But somewhere between the campaign trail and the White House, President Trump’s understanding of the importance of public transportation got lost. 

Rather than investing in public transit, his proposed 2018 budget slashes support for transit projects in communities across the country. More than 50 projects in line to receive federal funds in the next few years through the successful Capital Investment Grant program would have their federal funding cut, jeopardizing the plans of cities from Orlando to Seattle to here in Kansas City that are planning the next generation of subways, bus rapid transit lines, light rail, streetcars and more. 

With America’s 20 biggest cities generating more than half of the country’s GDP, urban transportation is critical to the U.S. economy, and failing to invest in it properly is a huge mistake.

Public transit is key to connecting people with jobs, but it also produces powerful benefits that keep our country’s economy buzzing. Efficient public transit reduces transportation costs for families, giving people more money to spend in the local economy on everything from restaurant meals to clothes to housing. It also reduces road congestion and provides financial value by increasing productivity, creating new business opportunities and the boosting our ability to compete in the global economy.

In fact, a 2014 study from the American Public Transportation Association showed that every $1 billion invested in public transportation over 20 years generates $3.7 billion in economic activity and creates 50,000 jobs.

Individual public transportation projects also attract investment and grow jobs at the local level. I’ve seen this play out in Kansas City, where businesses are thrilled by the streetcar system that opened a year ago. 

Our KC Streetcar has contributed $1.8 billion in new investment in the city, including spurring the construction of 2,500 new residential housing units and 348 hotel rooms. Perhaps most importantly, 80 percent of the businesses along the streetcar line have seen increased revenue, and almost 40 percent of those businesses have hired more employees. KC Streetcar is important as a transportation option for my residents, but it’s also important to our economy.

Kansas City isn’t alone.

For cities that build them, streetcars have increased property values, spurred private investment in both residential and commercial development, and helped to attract major employers back to city centers.

At a time when elected officials at all levels are trying to create family-wage jobs, public transportation projects are getting it done. This includes jobs for the designers and engineers who plan the systems, and for people in the construction trades who build them.

American manufacturing companies employ workers when steel rails, train cars, buses and other materials are purchased for a project. And, when public transportation projects are finished, they support skilled jobs for operators, maintenance and administrative staff.

Since 2001, 11 cities have opened streetcar systems and just as many are planning to build them. Of the more than 50 projects that would lose funding under Trump’s proposed cuts to the New Starts program, seven are streetcars. 

As he considers priorities for his budget and plans for revamping the nation’s infrastructure to make it “second to none,” President Trump should call up mayors and business owners in places like Oklahoma City and Kansas City, Salt Lake City and Seattle and ask them what streetcars have meant for the people living and working in their cities. 

I’m confident he’ll learn a lot about streetcars as an economic dynamo and a critical form of transportation in cities across the country.

Sly James is the mayor of Kansas City.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.