Transit agencies push for inclusion in Trump’s infrastructure plan

Transit agencies push for inclusion in Trump’s infrastructure plan
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Public transit agencies are making the case for being included in President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure package, stressing job creation and economic growth.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) on Monday pointed to new estimates that show investing $200 billion in public transportation would generate 10 million jobs over 10 years and add $800 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) over the next 20 years.

“Transit is the backbone of a multi-modal lifestyle,” said Richard A. White, president of APTA, during a press conference. 

The APTA argued that investment in public transit not only creates jobs from construction projects, but also helps connect people to new employment and other economic opportunities. Access to reliable public transportation can also affect where companies decide to locate.

“Seventy-three percent of all capital money that goes into transit flows back into private sector,” White said. 

The new APTA figures come as the Trump administration is beginning to assemble broad legislation to repair the country’s crumbling infrastructure, though discussions about the proposal are still in the early stages.

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Some transportation advocates fear transit agencies may be left out of the equation, as conservatives have long been reluctant to support massive federal spending on infrastructure — particularly on public transportation. The 2016 GOP platform calls for entirely eliminating federal funding for mass transit, bike-share programs, sidewalks and rail-to-rail projects, arguing that mass transit is “an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities."

Trump is expected to unveil a “skinny budget” this week that may hew closely to a blueprint published by the conservative Heritage Foundation, whose proposal would eliminate federal support for transit, including subsidies for Washington’s Metrorail system and Amtrak.

Transportation advocates also pointed out that Republicans tried to pass a spending bill years ago that slashed transit funding, but failed amid protests from some members in their own party.

“There was a Republican chairman … that tried to zero out public transit, and it went down in flames,” Eric Wolf, general manager of Altoona Metro Transit in Pennsylvania, said at the APTA event. “So yes, it could be possible to do an infrastructure funding package without [public] transportation, but it failed miserable recently.” 

Washington’s Metrorail, the second-largest subway system in the country, carries a large swath of the federal workforce, supports the city’s tourism and has spurred economic development in the region.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld quipped that if you see a construction crane in D.C., you’re more than likely to find a Metro station nearby.

But the beleaguered system has also been facing a string of financial and safety problems in recent years. Metro is undergoing a massive repair project just to get the system back to a state of good repair, and may be facing fare hikes and service cuts in its next budget.

“We’ve been the prime example of [what happens] when you don’t invest in infrastructure,” Wiedefeld said.

Like most transit agencies, Metro does not receive all of its money from the federal government. The subway gets $150 million a year from Congress for its capital budget. Across the country, 57 percent of public transportation funding comes from local sources, according to APTA.

But transit leaders emphasized that they still need help from the federal government in order to continue providing safe and reliable transportation services.

“We are doing a lot of innovative things in Chicago, but we cannot do it alone,” said Dorval Carter, president of the Chicago Transit Authority. “The government has historically been a partner in infrastructure investment, and we need them to continue to be a partner going forward.”