December 15, 2008
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Obama Transition Team Explores Possible Public Transit Options
By John R. Bell
APTA Program Manager - Communications
If his legislative history and public statements are any guide, President-elect Barack Obama will almost certainly push for increased funding for public transportation in his administration. But the legislative process must still be worked through, and specifics are still few and far between.
Obama and his advisors have made it clear, however, that an economic stimulus package will be his first order of business upon taking office. A key component of that package—which Obama has said will be the largest public works project since the Interstate Highway System—will be “green infrastructure,” according to his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
This idea is receiving widespread support. A recent Washington Post editorial, “Invest in Mass Transit,” noted that the continuing rise in public transit ridership should be a “call to action” for making infrastructure improvements a key component of the stimulus package.
APTA President William W. Millar cited the many benefits of public transportation in his congratulatory message to the President-elect. “In addition to helping our country’s economy, public transportation also plays a critical role in helping to reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil and lower our nation’s carbon footprint, two national goals that President-elect Barack Obama supports,” Millar said.
Plans and Actions Concerning Public Transportation
Public transportation has surfaced repeatedly in Obama’s policy statements, both as a candidate and since the election. For example, addressing the National Governors Association, he said: “We’ll also invest in our ports, roads, and high-speed rails, because I don’t want to see the fastest train in the world built halfway around the world in Shanghai. I want to see it built right here in the United States of America.”
Equally important, though, were his actions since coming to the Senate, for he was consistently supportive of public transit in budget and appropriation votes, and he co-sponsored the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which President Bush signed into law in October.
Further, he did not forget his home state residents, partnering last year with Illinois’ other senator, Dick Durbin (D-IL), to increase funding for Metra commuter rail in Chicago by $3.75 million. They also obtained $300,000 for paratransit service to Chicago’s C.A.R.E. Foundation, which provides low-income communities with asthma-treatment vans. And, in 2005, the two senators secured $19 million in transportation funding for Springfield, IL, part of which was used to plan and design that city’s multi-modal transportation terminal.
Transportation Transition Team Meeting
Obama’s organized approach to examining how the federal agencies are operating includes extensive outreach to non-governmental professionals by subject matter expert transition teams.
As part of that process, therefore, APTA and the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) recently met with members of the transportation transition team, many of whom have close ties to public transportation and APTA. In those discussions, the new administration made clear its commitment to supporting public transportation, as well as noting the larger role public transit will have in the administration’s policies, such as energy policy and environment conservation. At this meeting, the APTA/CTAA team shared 42 ideas for improving the federal public transportation program. This list is available online at www.apta.com/about/policy_agenda/index.cfm.
In addition, APTA has already developed a list of critical public transportation projects that stimulus legislation could enable. This suggests a sum of $47.8 billion to invest over the course of two years, including $12.2 billion for 736 “ready-to-go projects” identified by APTA member agencies. These projects could be begun within 90 days of funding approval.