U.S. Secretary of Transportation approves of ‘aggressive projects’ like SF subway master plan

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaks during a news conference at the Transportation Department in Washington, Friday, May 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Transportation big-wigs from across the nation are visiting San Francisco for the annual American Public Transportation Association conference, at the Hilton Hotel Union Square this week.

While transit officials gathered to discuss the newest in geeky gizmos for trains, buses and more, journalists were invited for a brief Q&A session with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

Foxx oversees the U.S. Department of Transportation. While he only took a handful of questions from local journalists in 10 minutes, perhaps the most controversial concerned San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener’s proposed Subway Master Plan.

The plan would task San Francisco with ‘always’ building a subway, until it has a network of tunnels across The City.

The Examiner asked if Foxx approves of such an ambitious plan – especially in light of dwindling federal funds, which are key to capital projects.

“I preach being aggressive to transit agencies,” Foxx told the Examiner.

“I think the infrastructure deficit is enormous,” he said, “Atlanta’s system, which I believe was built in the 1970s, was built with an 80 percent match,” meaning a match of federal investment to local investment.

Today, he said, You’re lucky to get a 50 percent match,” and “the trend line isn’t suggesting that match will go up from the federal government.”

Notably, the Senate is now locked in a debate over how, and when, to renew transportation funding that cities across the U.S. rely on for capital projects. Politico reports lawmakers may meet to make changes to that plan on Oct. 19, signaling agreement is still far off.

Local lawmakers told the Examiner previously that federal funding for major transportation projects is at an all-time low – but that new local funding mechanisms may shore up that deficit.

With that in mind, Foxx said, local transit agencies should still aggressively pursue capital projects, like the Subway Master Plan.

Transportation agencies “should be bringing us stuff as soon as they’re ready to move on it, and we’re going to our best job to help those projects come into existence,” he said.

Supervisor Wiener lauded Foxx’s comments.

“Secretary Foxx has been a visionary on transit investment, and if his view were shared by a majority in Congress, we’d be in a much better place,” Wiener said. “Secretary Foxx’s support sends a powerful signal that we are on the right track in pursuing this plan. We need to work hard to convince other policymakers of the Secretary’s vision.”

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