The Federal Transit Administration is asking Congress for a policy change that would free up $6.7 billion in formula grant funds to help large transit agencies address looming budget shortfalls, said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez on a press call Thursday. The request is part of the Biden administration’s fiscal year 2024 budget proposal.
Transit systems in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and other cities could soon face service cuts and fare hikes as remote work, crime and other issues keep ridership below pre-pandemic levels. “The transit industry is facing economic uncertainty,” said Fernandez. “That's why we've called for a historic policy change that would allow transit operators in big cities to use their formula grant funding for operations and maintenance of their systems, funding that has previously been reserved exclusively for capital spending.”
Fernandez said the policy change would also require that funds going to transit agencies from their state or local governments “will not be diminished as a result of them exercising this flexibility.” Smaller urban areas already have this flexibility, Fernandez explained.
The FTA is requesting $17 billion for transit programs in the proposed budget, and when combined with $4.3 billion in advance appropriations under the 2021 infrastructure law, would provide $21.3 billion to transit agencies in fiscal 2024, Fernandez said.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, speaking on the call, announced that 18 major transit projects in 11 states have been recommended to receive a total of $4.45 billion toward construction. These projects include:
- New York: $700 million for the proposed Hudson Tunnel Project and $496.8 million for the proposed Second Avenue Subway Phase II Project.
- California: $643 million for the Los Angeles Westside Subway Section 2 and Section 3 rail projects.
- Houston: $150 million for Harris County's University Corridor Bus Rapid Transit project.
- South Carolina: $100 million for the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments' Lowcountry Bus Rapid Transit project to connect North Charleston with downtown.
- Utah: $316.8 million to double-track portions of the FrontRunner commuter system connecting Provo and Ogden and purchase 10 new train sets.
- Washington: $250.7 million for Sound Transit’s Seattle Lynwood Link Light Rail extension project extending the light rail system from Northgate station in King County to the Lynnwood City Center station in Snohomish County.
“President Biden's major budget commitment to Sound Transit's ambitious expansion plans underscores the administration’s recognition of the role of transit in our nation's future,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine in an emailed statement.
“When these projects are complete, the result will be that more Americans will be able to take safe, reliable and efficient transit to wherever they need to be,” Buttigieg said.
However, Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Arkansas, a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement that the Biden budget “has zero chance of passing the House.”