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Multiple transit projects across U.S. at risk as White House infrastructure plan falters

Dozens of public transit projects around the country are in danger of stalling as the White House’s plan to boost U.S. infrastructure fails to gain momentum — with thousands of jobs at risk.

The uncertainty over these projects has worsened in recent days as President Trump — who had vowed to make the week’s focus infrastructure — faced a ­series of distractions, including a congressional hearing featuring former FBI director James B. Comey.

The president, who had called for $1 trillion in new infrastructure programs to create millions of jobs, now faces an increasing probability that not only will his proposal fail in Congress but that existing infrastructure efforts will also stumble.

The situation has emerged because the Trump administration has signaled it wants to take an approach to infrastructure spending that is different from the previous administration’s. Instead of funding many of the existing projects that depend on federal money — a practice that officials say they worry is wasteful — the administration says it wants to move toward a version of financing projects that is based far more on private funding.

The sudden uncertainty has left local officials who had long anticipated federal support for their projects worrying whether they will get it.


In previously unreported letters, officials at the Department of Transportation last week told project managers for a bus corridor in Pittsburgh and rail projects in Phoenix and New York that the administration’s budget plan for next year “proposes no funding for new projects” under an existing federal program known as the Capital Investment Grant.

Robert Rubinstein, who received the letter as executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, said the proposed cancellation of funding would effectively kill the project, which has been in the works for 10 years. It would have created an electric-bus corridor between Pittsburgh and nearby Oakland, Pa.

“We don’t have enough resources locally to undertake the larger project,” Rubinstein said. He said officials had sought roughly $80 million in federal money to go toward the $224 million project. He said the several million dollars already spent on studies and engineering reviews could be lost.

CIG funding allocates $2.3 billion each year to various projects and was recently authorized by lawmakers from both parties. Its projects include public transportation projects such as rail, streetcars and rapid bus systems. The White House’s most recent budget has proposed phasing out CIG funding, and the White House can block any new CIG projects even if there is congressional support.

Andrew Brady, senior director of government affairs at the American Public Transportation Association, said that more than 50 public transit projects are at risk of being denied federal funding because of Trump’s planned cuts to infrastructure spending.

“He’s saying a lot of good things on infrastructure, but what he’s done is implement very real cuts to infrastructure programs,” Brady said.

Capitol Hill aides closely tracking infrastructure funding say that uncertainty over the administration’s infrastructure plans is particularly threatening to programs that are far along and are dependent on federal funding for completion.

 The projects that are most at risk, they said, include some that have moved through the funding pipeline for years but are just short of final approval. Many are in states that Trump won last year, and they include a light-rail ­platform-lengthening project in Texas, a streetcar line in Arizona, and a bus rapid-transit line in Indiana.

Bryan Luellen, a spokesman for IndyGo, said the agency is concerned about long-term funding stability as it embarks on a major expansion of its system. The agency is expecting the CIG program to cover $75 million of the $96 million project and plans to seek federal funding for two other rapid-transit projects in coming years.

“Obviously, the less federal support we have, the less we can do overall,” he said.

Besides the transit program, Trump’s budget proposes ending the Department of Transportation’s TIGER grant program, which was created under the Obama administration in the 2009 stimulus bill and has since funded $5 billion worth of road, rail, port and bicycle projects.

Trump’s budget request said the program funds “projects with localized benefits” that often “do not rise to the level of national or regional significance.”

Those projects, it said, would be better funded through another DOT grant program, Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects, that is focused on roads and freight rail.