Trumping the Transportation Progress Our Cities Need

The president's spending proposals would derail the networks that are key to our economic growth.
by | April 4, 2017

Linda Bailey

Executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials

President's Trump proposed budget would be a disaster for the transportation networks that are key to the growth engines of today's economy: cities and their suburbs. Contrary to his often-bleak portrayal of them, cities are a remarkable American success story, contributing 90 percent of the country's economic output and 85 percent of U.S. jobs.

The preliminary federal spending plan would pull the rug out, jettisoning the funding that helps cities build new transit lines, eliminating the program that lets local communities directly access federal transportation funds, and axing a widely popular 42-year-old program that funds infrastructure of all kinds in every congressional district.

This severe approach flies in the face of national trends. Cities across the country are investing in transit, spurring job growth and economic development. More than 12 million people rode the new Green Line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul last year, and the project has generated $5 billion in investment since it opened. Los Angeles' Expo Line has seen record ridership since opening an extension to Santa Monica, with more than 50,000 people hopping the train every day. And Houston's overhaul of its bus network, with a subsequent boost in the number of people riding at all hours, is inspiring the same in other cities, including Columbus, Ohio, and Austin, Texas.

Stopping this progress in its tracks is not just unpopular; it's irresponsible. Yet the White House has proposed to stop funding transit projects through the New Starts and Small Starts program, which matches over $2 billion in local funding for rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit projects every year. Without it, Seattle would be choking on traffic; instead, the city has been able to add 45,000 new downtown jobs, thanks in large part to investments in high-capacity transit.

Trump's budget also envisions eliminating TIGER, a program that is already chronically underfunded, with just 5 percent of eligible projects supported last year. It would also cut off all Community Development Block Grants, without which Portland, Ore., wouldn't have built the first legs of its highly successful streetcar system.

These cuts would imperil planned improvements nationwide, ranging from faster bus service in Indianapolis to an expansion of Phoenix's successful light rail system. Also imperiled: the Durham-Orange light rail project in North Carolina's Research Triangle, projected to serve 26,000 people every day, and Milwaukee's East-West bus rapid transit line, which would connect people to 120,000 jobs and spur up to $60 million in new investment along the corridor.

In addition, the proposed elimination of subsidies to Amtrak services, which had record ridership last year, would leave communities without passenger rail at a time when we need more connections between our cities, not fewer.

President Trump has promised a $1 trillion plan to rebuild our infrastructure, but it is impossible to square his words with his budget proposal.

The people who live in our communities clearly have a different position on investing in their future. In last November's election, Americans showed up at the polls to ratify a host of ballot measures approving new taxes for public transit, safety and people-friendly streets. These new projects will enhance mobility and bolster economic growth while reducing the impacts of climate change.

Cities are investing in their future. It's time for the federal government to get back on board.

This commentary was produced in collaboration with the Island Press Urban Resilience Project, with support from the Kresge Foundation and the JPB Foundation.

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