Commentary by Petra Todorovich Messick

House Wages War on Transit

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GOP Bills Would Cut Funding for Rail, Walking, Biking

Last week, more than two years after the nation's last five-year surface transportation law expired, the House of Representatives introduced its proposed legislation for rewriting the nation's transportation laws. And boy, it is a doozy. 

Facing severely reduced gasoline tax receipts, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has proposed to cut many of the non-highway programs in the transportation bill that help give people alternatives to driving. These include things such as Transportation Enhancements, which provide set-asides for local projects that improve the transportation experience in communities (the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal was restored with a Transportation Enhancement grant); and other programs that reduce the environmental impact of transportation and promote pedestrian and biking facilities. The bill also reduces operating funding to Amtrak and cuts a capital grant program to relieve congestion on rail corridors.

The cuts to these programs were largely expected, but what provoked anger and surprise among many transportation experts was a separate measure by Ways and Means, the committee that authorizes the revenues for the transportation bill, that severed the 30-year-old link between highways and transit in the transportation trust fund. Since 1982, when President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that dedicated a penny of the federal gas tax to transit, transit agencies have had a steady source of reliable federal funding that allows them to keep their systems in good repair, replace outdated infrastructure and equipment and plan for the future. Dedicated funding for transit, which today amounts to 2.86 pennies of the 18.3 cents per gallon gas tax, has allowed systems like the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to pull back from the brink of disinvestment and make five-year capital plans that include projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access that are now under way.

This is in contrast to Amtrak, which has never had dedicated funding and relies on annual, unpredictable appropriations from Congress. The House Ways and Means bill, which eliminates the transit trust fund, and stops crediting its replacement -- the "alternative transportation fund" -- with gas tax revenue, effectively puts all other U.S. transit systems in the same untenable predicament as Amtrak. The committee proposes a one-time, $40 billion transfer from the U.S. general fund to (almost) pay for transit needs in the House's five-year bill, with no dedicated revenue source in the future.

Certainly, the larger problem here is the gap that has opened up between our national transportation needs and the revenue from federal fuel taxes that have traditionally paid for these needs. But this gap has been growing for half a decade, and there is no reason to punish transit users for it. In fact, it is in part the growing shift to transit use, and walking and biking, that has contributed to lower gasoline tax revenue. These trends should be encouraged, not thwarted.

There are several ways to deal with the transportation funding crisis without reducing the viability of our public transit systems. Ideally, policy makers would face up to the difficult political task of raising new revenue for transportation by raising the gas tax and indexing it to inflation. In the longer term, it might be necessary to diversify funding sources by charging for vehicle miles driven, or by implementing a stabilized transportation fuel tax that shifts the burden between wholesale oil producers and retail gasoline sales as the price of oil fluctuates, as proposed by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

But with little political will to raise gasoline taxes, another option is to accept that the Highway Trust Fund, backed by dwindling gasoline tax revenue, can no longer be relied on and that general fund revenues should be used to pay for transportation. It already has been happening: since 2008, $34.5 billion in general fund revenue has gone to plug the gaps in the trust fund. Instead of fighting it, Congress should recognize that transportation investment is as worthy as health care and other national priorities and pass a bill that recognizes the value of all transportation modes to grease the wheels of the national economy.

10 Comments

Hasn't there also been talk of using highway tolls? Both raising them and instituting new ones? And shouldn't there be?

I believe in most states, the tolls are collected by private entities assigned concessions to maintain the tollway. The current federal gas tax amounts to a paltry $90 per year for the average motorist. And, with new CAFE standards expected in 2025, the amount expected to be collected from more efficient vehicles drops to about half of the current amount. I'm baffled when I hear Federal and State politicians suggest that private tollways are designed to reduce the burden on taxpayers. In reality, most people pay considerably more to run on tollways than they contribute by way of the gas tax. If the gas tax, weren't such a political football, politicians would be inclined to tell the American people the truth! Raising the gas tax and dedicating a portion of this trust to public transit represents the lowest tax burden alternative. Instead, the average driver pays to line the pocket of for-profit tollway authorities and forego the develop of systems like the Washington Metro altogether. It truly is baffling when one looks at the REAL numbers!

The Last week in the House of Representatives fight over transportation funding seems to be part of a national trend of not funding Mass Transit properly or giving attention to all commuters.
Newsday last week wrote an article about MTA planned to have Metro-North have some of its trains go to Penn Station. The LIRR according to Newsday seems to have misgivings.
This would offer the public more accessible, convenient, reliable and frequent public transport for Metro-North passengers.
Here on Long Island, the LIRR however seems to have two classes service for their commuters. The first class of service is offered at electrified stations. The second class is offered at Non-electrified stations
The First class of service in most cases offers the criteria of convenient, reliable and frequent service to the public. This class also offers simple and direct so that a person can get to their final destination a New York City Terminal. The second class offers train service from non- electrified stations the second class train service from these stations maybe reliable, but is sometimes not convenient because it is not frequent as electrified stations. Passengers from this station must change trains more frequently to get their final destinations than offered at electrified stations.

MTA should combine Metro-North Upper Hudson Division with a LIRR Non- electrified line such as the Upper Port Jefferson Branch.via Penn Station to stop this class system at the LIRR. Combining routes would give the LIRR Upper Port Jefferson Branch better train service to a Manhattan Railroad Terminal. Metro-North Upper Hudson Division trains once they reach Penn Station should continue on to Long Island. This helps manage the track space in Penn Station more wisely. I would also the LIRR use less scheduled trains at Penn Station because the Metro-North Train would take the place of the Long Island Railroad Train to Long Island from Penn. Crews from both railroads could be changed at Penn Station so that operate the Penn Station train in their own territory. Before this happens, LIRR train crews must be instructed on how to operate a dual mode train sets. Metro-North and New Jersey Transit have a similar arrange to operate a train from New Haven to Secaucus using a NJT electric train set

At present the LIRR Upper Port Jefferson Branch, only offers two peak round trips and some holiday service through service to Penn Station. This year they have modified their direct train service to Penn by offering one round trip on a modified weekend schedule during bad weather on Monday –Friday.

In the 1990’s Amtrak operated a through train from Albany to Shea Sedum Station on the LIRR Port Washington Branch, known as the Baseball Special. Part of Amtrak’s Albany to Shea Stadium Station route, includes Metro-North’s Upper Hudson Division. Amtrak used a dual mode train set which includes locomotives and rail passenger cars. Dual mode locomotives operate using third rail power or regular diesel power. This train may have been able to operate with adjustable shoes to configure to both types of third rail. A shoe is a device which sticks of the wheel of a dual mode locomotive to get third rail power so that it can gain access to Penn Station. This type of equipment is needed for rail lines that have no electrification for its passengers need access to Penn Station.

Amtrak also planned to operate one daily round trip between Albany and Port Jefferson Station via Penn Station using that same type of equipment to relieve congestion at Penn Station. This proposed idea never materialized. See Newsday July 1991 article for more info on Albany and Port Jefferson Station train. The Baseball Special Train was also stopped it was said due to LIRR work rules at the time.

There were also proposal by Metro-North, to operate beach trains to Long Island using dual mode train sets. See New York Times Articles 1991-1993. One such article is entitled “Back to the Beach”.
Metro-North did not go through with this at the time, becuase they said it not generate enough passengers to cover the fare. They did not think of making both railroads more efficient and provide better service.

Many people, who live near non-electrified Long Island Railroad Station, drive to electrified stations causing traffic, pollution and parking problems. This leaves many non-electrified stations underutilized and various governments have pay for the building of more parking at various LIRR electrified stations to accommodate these commuters. The idea of combining of Metro-North Upper Hudson Division with a LIRR non- electrified line such as the Upper Port Jefferson Branch.via Penn Station would stop this. It would give people who live near non-electrified Long Island Railroad Station a reason to use their local station, because it would increase the number of through trains to a Manhattan Rail Terminal. I would also give better sport fans access to trains to Yankee Stadium.

People have to remember that the Eastside Access is for electric trains’
The Eastside Access in some ways makes more problems unless people, who live near non-electrified Long Island Railroad Station, are given a better alternative to a Manhattan Rail Terminal. To the LIRR’s none electrified passengers Eastside Access is just another station they have to change to0.

Let’s us fund Mass Transit and spend public dollars wisely for all commuters.

This is great… I'm so glad because the whole America 2050 is part of the UN Agenda 21.

The whole thing is being used to regionalize the U.S. citizens into mega regions. Thus, erasing the city, county and ultimately state boundaries. The TRANSPORATIONS TAX DOLLARS will be used to build apartments and condos in designated areas of cities and NOWHERE ELSE. Citizens money will be direct to favored developers building stack and pack housing.

Everyone will lose his or her ability to direct their elected officials through tis plan to destroy local representation. There are now 11 Mega Regions
designed to replace States. Google Agenda 21 or Delphi meeting for conformation.

Anything that works to thwart the Agenda 21 model is a good thing, it would be a great thing if the intent of these cuts were directly related to that endeavor.

Agenda 21 is the reason America needs to get out of the UN, as well as the reason we need to get the UN out of America at any cost.

To alter the Human presence in the ecosystem, is to alter the very ecosystem Agenda 21 claims to support. The only thing it supports is the United Nations totalitarian agenda for the 21st century.

Get the USA out of the U.N. and the U.N. out of the USA !!
Fire any politician that supports Agenda21.

For everyone who believes in transit-oriented development, try this one out for size. If you are open to the idea that you might have been mistaken:

http://andrewatkin.blogspot.co.nz/2009/06/smart-growth.html

Is there any way to also cut funding to America 2050 and all the other UN distopian nightmares such as agenda 21 as well? I think that would be some real progress.

While I love bike paths, it is not the responsibility of the federal government to support this, but rather local governments. Haven't we already created enough debt with these distopian social programs?

Or is it that debt is being used to enslave the masses and herd them into these soviet style urban hell holes. Kind of like government housing on steroids. We all know how well that's managed.

They should not only cut off ALL funding they should shut down ALL sustainable projects. Shut down DOT-EPA-HUD!!!!

It will be unbread amireca in the time..

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