UPDATED WITH NEW DETAILS ON FUNDING: (Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Transportation cuts in Capitol Hill's budget deal are coming into clearer focus -- and while high-speed rail retains some funding, almost all types of transportation take a big hit.
Appropriations aides on both sides of the aisle say that $2.9 billion is the limit of the deal's cuts to high-speed rail. A previous cut of $1.5 billion had spread fears that the actual cuts were cumulative at $4.4 billion, but as aides pored over the fine print -- released at 2 am -- and ran the numbers through their calculators, both parties agreed the final cut was 2.9 billion. That means President Obama's signature transportation initiative is left with no new funding whatsoever for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Obama Administration officials point out that the Department of Transportation still has $2 billion on hand for high-speed rail projects. That means the program isn't dead, just unfunded for this year. "The Obama Administration looks forward to working with states eager to build the foundation for a world-class rail network," read a statement released by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Capitol Hill accounting can be maddeningly confusing. The Department of Transportation had about $2.4 billion on hand for high speed rail projects already. That includes money that was returned from Florida, whose Governor very publicly decided he didn't want the projects in his state. What Congress did in the spending deal was stop $2.5 billion that was set to go out the door for more projects in Fiscal 2011. In addition, it rescinded $400 million of the $2.4 billion DOT is sitting on. That gives Congress a cut of $2.9 billion from high speed rail, while DOT still has $2 billion it already got from Congress previously. But the program is eliminated as far as new spending from Congress this year is concerned. And there's now 400 million less to hand out to the dozens of states who last week applied for some of the Florida $$.
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Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, called the cuts "politically appealing" but short-sighted, especially in the face of rising gas prices. "Passenger rail in the U.S. is poised to set another annual record for ridership, so travelers are voting with their feet to some extent. It makes it even more critical that those investments that are being made be done right," Puentes told Transportation Nation in an email.
And it's not just high-speed rail that takes a hit. The budget agreement chops nearly $1 billion from transit assistance. And while infrastructure projects funded by the Highway Trust Fund stay pretty much at fiscal 2010 levels, other road projects take a major hit. The final budget deal took $3.2 billion in spending authority for highway projects away from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including more than $600 million in old earmarks.