Transport Stimulus: You’re Doing It Wrong

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Burning the Midnight Oil for Energy Independence (crosspost links at the blog)

There is this big emphasis on “shovel ready projects” in the Stimulus Bill … but now that the details are coming out, we can see that in transport, its just a load of horseshit used as an excuse for supporting business as usual.

The headline numbers are $30b highway spending, $10b for public transport and rail:

  • Transit Capital Assistance, $15.9b in shovel ready projects, $6b in funding
  • Amtrak, more than $10b in capital backlog, $0.8b in funding
  • Fixed Guideway Infrastructure Investment, $50b capital backlog, $2b in funding
  • Capital Investment Grants, $2.4b in already approved projects, $1b in funding

I got a “shovel-ready” project for you … shoveling out the bullshit from the Bush Administration Department of Transport and replacing the pandering to the oil companies with a concern for America’s Economic Future.

The Details, Wherein The Devil Lies

Take the following details, wherein the devil always lies. Under the summary description, “$10 billion for transit and rail to reduce traffic congestion and gas consumption” … which is fishy right there, since everybody knows there are more than $10b in deferred maintenance to get passenger and freight rail in this country, and more than $10b in freight bottlenecks, many of which have been “studied” to death (since Yet Another Study is much cheaper than funding capital works) … and we see the following specifics (emphases added):

Capital Assistance to States-Intercity Passenger Rail Service Recovery Funding: $300 million

The Capital Assistance to States-Intercity Passenger Rail Service program provides grants on a discretionary basis to states to fund necessary capital improvements to improve intercity passenger rail service. Over the last 10 years, ridership on intercity routes that benefit from state support has grown by 73 percent. Grants under this program are awarded to the most meritorious projects as measured against statutory criteria. The FY 2008 grants demonstrated the demand of this program. Applications were greatly oversubscribed even though applications were required within 90 days of the start of this new program. AASHTO has estimated intercity passenger rail corridor investment needs during the 2007-2012 timeframe as totaling $18.502 billion.

No detail on the number of “shovel ready” projects, but AASHTO annual investment needs estimated at roughly $3b annually, allocation of 10% of that.

Amtrak Capital Grants Recovery Funding: $800 million

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) provides intercity passenger rail service over a system of approximately 20,000 miles in 46 states. It also owns and maintains the most intensively used segment of railroad in the U.S., the Washington, D.C. – New York City – Boston, Northeast Corridor (NEC), which is an integral part of the intercity passenger transportation system in the most densely populated section of the U.S. The NEC carries a majority of air/ rail trips between Washington and NYC. The NEC also hosts commuter and freight rail systems serving the major cities of the Northeast. Amtrak has been consistently undercapitalized during its 37 year existence, and its infrastructure is aging. Recent estimates by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General of Amtrak’s capital backlog, just on the NEC, exceeded $10 billion. As a result of aging infrastructure both the speed and capacity of NEC rail passenger operations are limited.

A backlog in excess of $10b, funding of under 8% of that.

Transit Capital Assistance Recovery Funding: $6.000 billion

These funds will be used to purchase buses and equipment needed to provide additional public transportation service and to make improvements to intermodal and transit facilities. The Department of Transportation’s 2006 Conditions and Performance Report indicated there is an annual investment gap of $3.2 billion to maintain our transit systems and an annual gap of $9.2 billion to begin to improve our transit systems. In addition, a January 2009 survey of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) identified 787 ready-to-go transit projects totaling $15.9 billion. Funds will be distributed through the existing urban and rural transit formulas. $5.4 billion will be distributed to urban communities and $600 million will be distributed to transit agencies that serve rural communities. It is estimated that over 165,000 jobs will be created by this investment.

$15.9b ready to go projects, funding at 38% of that.

Fixed Guideway Infrastructure Investment Recovery Funding: $2.000 billion

These funds will be used for capital projects to modernize or improve existing fixed guideway systems, including purchase and rehabilitation of rolling stock, track, line equipment, structures, signals and communications, power equipment and substations, passenger stations and terminals, security equipment and systems, maintenance facilities and equipment, operational support equipment including computer hardware and software, system extensions, and preventive maintenance. Funds will be distributed through the existing fixed guideway formula. It is estimated that the state-of-good-repair capital backlog for existing fixed guideway systems is nearly $50 billion.

Capital backlog of $50b, funding at 4% of that.

Capital Investment Grants Recovery Funding: $1.000 billion

These funds will be used for light rail lines, rapid rail (heavy rail), commuter rail, automated fixed guideway system, or bus-way/high occupancy vehicle (HOV) facilities. These projects help relieve congestion in major metropolitan areas and reduce the carbon footprint caused by automobile travel. Funds will be distributed on a discretionary basis and will assist the advancement of full funding grant agreement projects that are already in construction as well as final design projects that are nearly ready to begin construction. The Federal Transit Administration has documented more than $2.4 billion in pre-approved funding that could be advanced to 19 projects across the country to construct New Starts and Small Starts projects. It is estimated that this investment will create nearly 35,000 new jobs.

$2.4b in pre-approved projects (but, it would seem, not yet funded), funding at 42% of that … and that’s just what the Bush Dept. of Transport has identified.

“More Asphalt” Sure Is The Change Someone Can Believe In

Now, for comparison, what is the ratio of funding to “shovel ready” projects for highways?

Highway Infrastructure Investment Recovery Funding: $30 billion

The Department of Transportation’s 2006 Conditions and Performance Report indicated there is an annual investment gap of $8.5 billion to maintain our current systems and an annual gap of $61.4 billion to improve highway and bridges.

… Twice last year, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) surveyed State transportation departments and reported on the number and dollar value of additional highway projects that each State could undertake quickly if supplemental Federal funds were made available. The results of AASHTO’s December 2008 survey showed that all 50 States combined had over 5,100 projects totaling more than $64 billion that could be under contract within 180 days after enactment of Federal economic recovery legislation. These projects would include resurfacing and pavement preservation projects, traffic signal system upgrades, bridge projects, and intelligent transportation systems.

In other words, roughly 42% of the annual funding gap and roughly 50% of identified shovel ready projects.

(Appropriations Committee Report on Recovery Bill (pdf), pp. 69-71)

The Appropriations Committee can natter on all it wants about the glories of roadworks, but this country passed our peak oil production about forty years ago and is now addicted to petroleum imports for more than half of our petroleum needs, while a much larger part of the operating costs of the rail and bus transport system are the wages of the people working on the system. Those non-highway appropriations have a strategic defense imperative, and a long term economic development imperative, in addition to transport benefits that outweigh the benefits of yet another roadwork project, and yet are underfunded compared to highway construction.

We are spending $2.4b on the chimera of “clean coal”, just to buy protective cover for the real sustainable energy spending … and there is just $1.1b on regional rail transport.

Even worse, there is $0.0b on improvements in regional freight rail transport.

And the 100% federal funding allowed under the stimulus plan would allow us to make short term investments with long-term benefits all across the country … this is not just a matter of the Northeast Corridor and California. For example, there is a massive freight logjam in Chicago. As the Metropolitan Planning Council notes:

A new state capital plan would mean new investments in metropolitan Chicago ‘s freight rail system. Trains currently crawl through the region at average speeds of 12 mph and frequently block traffic at hundreds of intersections in the south and southwest suburbs alone. Modernizing our freight rail network not only would reduce delays for train commuters, drivers and transporters but also would accommodate commuter rail and spur economic opportunities in adjacent communities. The entire region would benefit from much-needed freight capital expenditures.

Investing in freight rail throughways in Chicago is an investment in the productivity of our national economy. And there are “shovel ready” projects. And Stimulus Funding? $0.0b, because we rely on State Departments of Transport with their heavy highway bias to come up with projects, so urgent national transport priorities are set on the back burner to pander to entrenched constituencies to entrenched state bureaucracies.

What in the Hell Happened to Changed We Can Believe In?

I want to stress that this is not a general whinge about the stimulus. The Energy Infrastructure part of the stimulus is excellent and the sustainable energy production part of the stimulus is OK … far too much to the chimeras of clean coal and liquid biofuels, but on the balance, from what little I can tell, OK.

But for the Transport part of the stimulus … WTF?

Well, its no surprise … this is one last “surprise in the punchbowl” from the Bush Department of Transportation. From the California HSR blog:

Rep. Jim Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation Committee and passionate rail advocate, has been rather outspoken in his anger about the underfunding of transit in the proposal. He explains what may have happened to make the stimulus plan so weak:

Basically CBO got numbers from the Bush administration DOT that said it was not possible to spend money on these projects within 90 days, meaning they’re not “shovel ready”. Oberstar explains that’s BS and it’s ridiculous to be taking numbers from the Bush folks at DOT that are getting ready to high-tail it out of town. He’s really mad about this and I know he’s going to fight to get more spending on infrastructure.

Take this fight to your Congressperson … phone, mail … you known the drill. We can’t afford let the Bush Department of Transport get away with one last act of sabotage against our nation’s Energy Independence and, of course, the global climate as a whole.


    • BruceMcF on January 18, 2009 at 02:57

    … running on the bullet train network. The French started building their TGV bullet train system in 1981 … at about the same time that we began our retreat into the “wishing will make it so” Energy Economy of Reagan.

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