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Trump’s budget could threaten future Bay Area transportation projects

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Construction continues on the future Transbay Transit Center in downtown San Francisco on April 27, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

President Donald Trump is gunning for transit, at least if his new budget is any indication.

Trump promised previously to be “great” on infrastructure. That seemingly does not involve local transit projects, critics are saying.

The president’s budget, called “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” promises major cuts to federal dollars that flow to local transportation projects, namely “New Starts” funding and TIGER grants.

The president’s 2018 budget requests $16.2 billion for the Department of Transit’s discretionary budget, a $2.4 billion decrease.

From new BART cars to Muni’s Central Subway, local transportation agencies depend on those federal grants to get projects done.

Randy Rentschler, director of legislation and public affairs at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said those New Starts grants affect most new capital projects in the Bay Area.
“It’s ‘D,’ all of the above. It’s everything,” he said, calling Trump’s budget “worrisome.”

Congress has control over the nation’s purse strings, however, and many presidential budgets have been tossed by the wayside in years past. Even now, reports The Washington Post, Capitol Hill Republicans have “sharply criticized” his budget.

But though Trump’s budget is likely not to pass, Rentschler pointed out, Trump still has the power of the pen over federal transportation grants — he can simply not sign them for approval.

“That’s the most important thing,” he said. “It’s a lot of proposals, a lot of it is old hat. But New Starts is significant given the power the administration has over this program at this point.”

Trump’s proposed budget reads, “The President’s 2018 Budget … Limits funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program (New Starts) to projects with existing full funding grant agreements only.”

The budget proposal continues, “Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”

That’s likely a hard pill to swallow for the Bay Area, which already just approved a $3.5 billion bond to fund BART, which was supposed to aid other federal dollars to boost capital spending.
Perhaps that’s why BART took to Twitter on Thursday to explain the possible fallout of Trump’s budget.

“Elimination of New Starts grants from the [Federal Transportation Administration] would be harsh,” BART tweeted. “In the past, this helped pay for BART to SFO.”

BART explained it is applying for $ 1 billion in New Start grants now, which would contribute to portions of a number of projects: purchasing 306 new BART cars, building new maintenance facilities, investing in new train control systems and powering infrastructure upgrades.

An expansion of BART to Silicon Valley will need $1.5 billion in federal funds to extend to San Jose, BART wrote, eliminating funding for 32 percent of the entire project.
“The president’s change in policy would drastically shift funding downstream,” BART wrote, “and likely hit local users the hardest.”

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