Feds tout Sacramento light rail expansion

Feds tout Sacramento light rail expansion
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The Obama administration is touting the expansion of a light rail line in Sacramento, Calif., that was extended 4.3 miles this week with the help of $142 million from the federal government. 

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) acting chief Therese McMillan said the new service "will significantly improve transit options for residents traveling between downtown Sacramento and the growing South Sacramento corridor."

"Earlier this week, I joined Congresswoman Doris Matsui and Sacramento [Regional Transit District], state, and local officials to celebrate the opening of Sacramento’s Blue Line light rail extension from Meadowview Road to Cosumnes River College (CRC)," McMillan wrote in a blog post published Thursday on the transportation department's website. 

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"The 4.3 mile Blue Line extension offers local commuters an alternative to congested Highway 99, while bringing new transit service to the area’s major employers and encouraging new retail and residential development in specially zoned areas along the light rail line," she continued. "An example of this new development is the construction of a new, 270-unit apartment complex near the Cosumnes River College station." 

The Obama administration has funded the construction of light rail and streetcar systems in several cities as Republicans in Congress have stymied the president's plans to build more high-speed intercity railways in the U.S. 

Light railways and streetcars emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as a cost-effective alternative to building "heavy rail" subway systems such as Washington's Metrorail. Light railways are generally operated aboveground and run shorter trains.

McMillan said this week the FTA provided $135 million of the $270 million it cost to extend the Sacramento Blue Line through its Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program. She said the Obama administration also chipped in an additional $7.1 million from other transportation department funds to help pay for the project. 

McMillan said the administration could support more transit projects like the Sacramento expansion if Congress approves a multi-year transportation funding bill this fall. 

"While we're thrilled to celebrate successes, we also worry that a lack of long-term funding certainty will prevent development of more transportation assets like this," she said, touting a six-year, $478 billion infrastructure bill that has been proposed by President Obama. 

"GROW AMERICA, the long-term transportation bill Secretary Foxx sent to Congress last spring, would provide increased funding to expand public transportation projects — projects like Sacramento’s Blue Line extension that help mitigate road congestion and improve access to opportunity," McMillan continued. 

"Projects like the Blue Line take time to progress from proposal to reality, and planners can't develop them when they can't rely on a stable funding environment," the acting FTA chief concluded. "Continued uncertainty in federal funding is a serious threat to transportation projects that can help growing communities across the country solve today's mobility challenges and prepare for the challenges of tomorrow."