Congress urges Trump administration to release public transit funding

Congress urges Trump administration to release public transit funding
© Greg Nash

A coalition of Senate Democrats is urging the Trump administration to release funding for public transit projects that have already been approved by Congress.

In a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Office of Management and Budget on Friday, lawmakers pressed the administration “to immediately advance the billions in shovel-ready public transportation projects around the country that could break ground this year.”

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) signaled Monday that it would sign the full funding agreement for at least one stalled project in the pipeline: the electrification of part of Caltrain’s commuter rail system.


FTA’s Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program doles out federal money to help make major capital improvements to transit systems around the country.

Congress provided $2.4 billion for the program in the fiscal 2017 omnibus spending bill, which is a $236 million boost from the previous year. The approval for new and existing transit projects came even though Trump has targeted the program for cuts in his budget proposal.

But the group of Senate Democrats is concerned that there have been delays in DOT signing off on the final step in the project funding process, and they worry that the administration may cut off money for some transit projects.

They are asking the administration to quickly release money for all approved projects and reaffirm its commitment to revitalizing U.S. infrastructure.

“The Trump Administration’s threat to cancel nearly 60 transit projects in 20 states is not only contrary to the President’s campaign promise to increase investments in our nation’s infrastructure, it jeopardizes thousands of American jobs, severely impacting the economies of communities across the nation,” the members wrote.

The letter is signed by over two dozen Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerIn Congress, what goes on behind closed doors? Senate Judiciary begins investigation into DOJ lawmaker subpoenas America needs a stable Israeli government MORE (N.Y.) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinBipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Senate Judiciary begins investigation into DOJ lawmaker subpoenas Garland pledges review of DOJ policies amid controversy MORE (Ill.)

But the FTA already announced it was signing off on Caltrain’s electrification grant.

The DOT had temporarily withheld funding for the project to give the agency “additional time to complete review of this significant commitment of federal resources.”

The project has been a lighting rod among California lawmakers, with Republicans urging the DOT to block the federal grants and Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinProgressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema 'If this thing qualifies, I'm toast': An oral history of the Gray Davis recall in California The big myths about recall elections MORE (D-Calif.) threatening to oppose all DOT nominees until the White House released Caltrain funding.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said in a statement that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao "has done the right thing and committed the federal government to fulfill its obligation to see this project through completion." 

"I am pleased to have Secretary Chao and the Department of Transportation as partners on this critical project," Harris added. "I look forward to working with the Secretary and her team in the future on similar initiatives like these in California and throughout the nation.”