May 23, 2017-The budget proposal presented today by President Trump would provide no funding for the proposed $1B West Lake Extension of the South Shore line. Under President Trump’s budget proposal, only transit programs with full funding agreements in place would be funded by the Capital Improvement Grant (New Starts) program. Due to numerous delays in finalizing the draft environmental impact statement, the West Lake Extension does not yet have a full funding agreement. The proposal to fund only existing capital improvement projects is a preliminary step in the budget process and can be amended by congress. Certainly, there will be push back to continue spending despite a national debt which is quickly approaching $20 Trillion.
Even if the Capital Improvement Grants program is not eliminated, it is likely that rules for grants under the program will receive greater scrutiny. In 2008, amid a flurry of TARP expenditures, Bush era rules to obtain transit grants were eliminated. According to noted transportation expert Randal O’Toole “The Bush administration tried to cap on rail transit cost inflation by limiting how much rail lines could cost per hour of transportation user benefits (the time a new transit line would save both transit riders and other travelers). The Obama administration eliminated that cap and through the rule making process effectively eliminated cost effectiveness as a criterion for judging transit capital grants.” Since the elimination of the caps, costs have skyrocketed-in 2014 O’Toole analyzed the cost of light rail at over $50M per mile. the proposed cost of the West Lake Extension is approximatly $77M IF you believe it will be built for anywhere near $615M.