Supervisor Scott Wiener is proposing further subway expansions, which, if approved, can begin after the Central subway is completed. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner 2012)

Federal transit bill falls short, may impact SF transit projects

City officials say a new five-year, $305 billion federal transit bill may not be the boon for local transit projects they’d initially hoped.

Federal transportation funding is the well city transportation agencies draw from to build capital projects.

The plan, which was signed into law Friday by President Barack Obama, is underfunded, critics say — and San Francisco is among cities that may be left with less federal funding for transit projects.

“This bill is not perfect, but it is a common-sense compromise, and an important first step in the right direction,” Obama said in a statement Friday.

The bill provides some increase to highway and transit spending but does not reach the $400 billion over six years administration officials publicly said is necessary to keep national traffic congestion from worsening.

It also does not identify long-term transit funding.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, uses federal funding to pay for the Central Subway or Geary Bus Rapid Transit projects, for example.

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin told the San Francisco Examiner he was pleased the bill passed and is “grateful” for Sen. Barbara Boxer’s leadership.

But, he said, “One item of unfinished business is finding a sustainable source of revenue for the federal transportation program. This bill funds five years, but without a sustainable path forward.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who recently introduced a “Subway Master Plan” for The City, told the Examiner “the big picture is problematic. The bill does not come close to meeting the massive transportation infrastructure needs of our nation, and continues to under-fund public transportation and bike, pedestrian projects.”

The main source of funding for the bill is the Highway Trust Fund, which is sourced from the national 18.4-cent-a-gallon gas tax.

The bill also includes spending without identified funding sources, including more than $10 billion over five years for Amtrak and other rail programs, $12 billion for mass transit and $1 billion for vehicle safety programs. The money for those programs remains subject to annual spending decisions by Congress.

Locally, the SFMTA faces $21 billion in capital improvements over the next 20 years without identified sources of funding, according to its 20-year Capital Plan.

Nearly half of that funding is needed to keep The City’s transportation system in good repair, 23 percent is to enhance existing infrastructure, and 29 percent is construct new capital assets — like the potential new Central Subway expansion to Fisherman’s Wharf.

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