“Many New Starts projects reduce transit mobility because transit agencies sacrifice bus service to low-income neighborhoods, where such mobility is needed, in order to deliver rail transit to middle-income neighborhoods, where such mobility is merely an amenity” Randall O’Toole, CATO Institute
March 16, 2017-President Trump’s 2018 budget was released today and, as expected, the budget eliminates funding for the controversial New Starts program administered by the Federal Transit Administration. While the proposal will still have to work through congress, the elimination of the bloated new starts program has been on the agenda for many Republicans for years. The West Lake Corridor Project is the poster child for the extreme waste that the program has come to symbolize. The project is projected to cost $600M and serve approximatly 1500 new passengers per day by the year 2040. According to estimates from the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, one half of the ridership from the West Lake Extension would come from existing ridership simply choosing a station that is, in some cases, as little as a 5 minute drive from a current station.
Prioritizing Infrastructure Needs
White House Office of Management and Budget Director stated that the White House seeks to move money from “less efficient” programs to fund a larger infrastructure project later in the year. The New Starts program has been criticized for encouraging unnecessary projects and shifting transportation dollars from needed inner-city bus routes to underutilized and costly suburban rail lines. According to Randall O’Toole of the CATO Institute, “Many New Starts projects reduce transit mobility because transit agencies sacrifice bus service to low-income neighborhoods, where such mobility is needed, in order to deliver rail transit to middle-income neighborhoods, where such mobility is merely an amenity.” (See https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/paint-cheaper-rails-why-congress-should-abolish-new-starts ) O’Toole goes on to explain that the Bush administration put cost-benefit analyses in place but they were gutted by the Obama adminstration. “The Bush administration attempted to use the cost-effectiveness requirement to place an upper limit on project costs, but the transit lobby has persuaded the Obama administration and Congress to effectively eliminate this criterion altogether.” (
What’s Next-Funding is Not Dead
According to the Kansas City Star, the President issued a list of 50 “emergency and national security infrastructure projects” which would be funded. New Rail construction, under President Trump’s plan, would be funded by block grants to states. According to the Kansas City Star, President Trump has outlined 50 critical infrastructure projects which are described as “Emergency and National Security Projects.” The list of projects was reportedly assembled by the Trump team from meetings with governors throughout the country.
The President’s budget proposal is just that-a proposal. It is sure to face intense debate in Congress where legislators attempt to bring shiny new trains to their home districts regardless of the need or cost. We will keep you updated.