For immediate release: February 10, 2009
Contact: Kate Slevin, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
    P: 212-268-7474, 917-833-9259

Watchdog Organization Applauds Investments in Infrastructure in Senate Recovery Bill

Urges Senate-House Conferees to Strengthen Transportation Provision

New York City — The Senate today took a significant step toward an economic recovery package that could create the kinds of jobs in the New York metropolitan region that will help reduce transportation costs, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy dependence.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which passed by a margin of 61-37, provides urgently needed funding increases for expansion of mass transit and could be utilized to undertake long-neglected repairs of the state’s crumbling transportation roads and bridges if state and local officials adopt common sense spending priorities.

“Our region desperately needs federal money to fix bridges, buy buses and rail cars, and repave roads and bikeways,” said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an independent policy watchdog organization working for a more balanced transportation system in the New York metropolitan region.

However, the Senate bill is not perfect. Like the House bill, it fails to provide urgently needed operating support for transit agencies, such as the MTA, that have been threatened with layoffs and service cuts due to local budget shortfalls.

“Without additional revenue, the MTA plans to raise fares by 25% and cut service throughout the region,” said Slevin. “Congress can help transit riders by giving emergency operating aid to the MTA, and other transit agencies across the country.”  

The bill also joins the House bill in failing to provide the necessary criteria to ensure that state and local officials dedicate highway funds to fixing our crumbling infrastructure first and building a 21st century transportation system that reduces our dependence on oil.  

“We need federal stimulus money to be spent on fixing our existing roads and bridges, expanding transit service, strengthening communities, and providing transportation choices,” said Slevin. “Investing in highway expansion is not the answer.”

Now selected members of the House of Representatives and Senate will come together in a conference committee to negotiate a final recovery package to send to the White House. The conference needs to preserve the best pieces of each bill that do the most to advance the goal of creating the kinds of jobs that will strengthen communities, increase transportation choices and reduce future traffic congestion, oil dependence, and vulnerability to high gas prices.

Specifically, the conference committee should ensure the following components are included in the final bill sent to President Obama:

  • At least $8.4 billion for public transportation (Senate), $2.5 billion for New Starts transit projects (House), and $2 billion for rail modernization (House) for a total of $13 billion in increased transit funding.
  • Emergency aid for transit operations.
  • More money for USDOT’s Transportation Enhancements Program (included in the House bill), which funds ready-to-go bicycling and pedestrian projects -- among the most job intensive, shovel-ready construction projects there are.
  • At least $2 billion (provided in the Senate bill) for high speed rail that will create jobs and reduce our dependence on carbon intensive transportation options.
  • The $5.5 billion transportation competitive grants program that can be used for multi-modal investments of national significance, with the addition of criteria that will ensure priority for energy-saving transportation projects.
  • Additional criteria for highway spending in order to ensure that money goes to fund bridge and road repair construction jobs rather than new highways and highway expansion.

If the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is to bring both economic recovery in the short run, and investment in a clean energy economy for the long run, it must create the transportation jobs now that will help strengthen the region’s communities for decades to come. That means funding the kinds of jobs that fix crumbling roads and bridges, enhance today’s transit services, and start building the world class transit systems necessary for our future success.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign is a non-profit advocacy and policy organization working for a more balanced, transit-friendly, and equitable transportation system in downstate New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.