Increased BART service, including a new South Bay connection, could be in the works under President Biden’s proposal.<ins></ins>

Increased BART service, including a new South Bay connection, could be in the works under President Biden’s proposal.

Bay Area transit poised to benefit from Biden infrastructure bill

Capital projects could come ‘off the shelf’ with federal funding

“Amtrak Joe” is living up to his reputation.

President Joe Biden introduced a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package earlier this week that looks to make one of the biggest down payments in domestic clean energy, roads and transit in recent decades.

Details on the proposal are still murky, but the Bay Area stands to benefit greatly from the package should it be approved by Congress.

Local officials say capital projects that have been put on the back burner over a lack of funding could be beneficiaries of the proposal.

Those projects include a BART connection between San Jose and Santa Clara, high-speed rail between the Central Valley and Silicon Valley and regionwide carpool and express lanes.

“That’s what gets taken off the shelf with a big infusion of money,” said Randy Rentschler, legislative director for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Biden’s proposal allocates $621 billion for transportation-related efforts.

Of that, $174 billion would go toward electric vehicles, including a nationwide network of 500,000 charging stations and support for local transit agencies to transition from diesel buses toward electric or hybrid vehicles — a process already underway at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Roughly $115 billion would go toward roads and bridges, while $85 billion would be set aside for the modernization of transit systems, representing a near doubling of the current federal funding for public transportation across the country.

As would be expected from the president who once commuted 110 miles daily on Amtrak between Delaware and Washington D.C., the proposal includes a hefty sum for train projects.

Caltrain expects the plan could bolster its ongoing modernization and electrification efforts, provide funding to build out intermodal stations that serve various forms of transportation and support grade separations and crossing safety improvements.

“The Bay Area has gone through major changes in recent years, and it needs major infrastructure projects to ensure the people who live here can get where they need to go,” Caltrain spokesperson Dan Lieberman said. “Seeing President Biden set these projects as a priority is a much-needed change of pace.”

Bay Area transit agencies have been allocated a total of nearly $3.5 billion in aid through three separate COVID-19 relief packages. MTC was responsible for overseeing the distribution of that money, and individual transit agencies were then empowered to use the relief to fund daily operations and stay afloat.

If passed by Congress, the latest dollars would flow from Washington D.C. differently.

According to Rentschler, the bill would likely fund capital efforts as opposed to operating budgets.

It would also provide more guidance on how the money must be spent, determining which specific projects the federal government will fund and divvying up the money to authorities at the state and local level with more direction, as opposed to running everything through the MTC to decide.

Passage of the package will undoubtedly face fierce opposition on Capitol Hill, in large part because Biden wants to pay for it by raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, a return to the status quo before his predecessor enacted massive tax cuts in 2017.

Combined with an increase on the tax paid by multinational corporations and the elimination of a number of loopholes in the tax code, the White House said these measures would pay for the infrastructure package’s spending in 15 years.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already vowed to fight the proposal.

Regional transit agencies expressed gratitude to the White House for prioritizing mobility with this proposal, but Rentschler did point out that the need for such a shot in the arm wouldn’t be as dire if infrastructure and transportation had been prioritized more consistently in the first place.

“In a perfect world, a sustained commitment of federal dollars is really needed to get things done,” he said. “Decades of sustained, consistent, reliable funding. That’s always better.”

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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