U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Transit Cuts Could Pass House

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A map of Dallas Light Rail's proposed expansion. DART President Gary Thomas says similar expansions would be jeopardized under the House funding proposal.

Transit advocates are taking the House's threat to remove transit spending from the highway trust fund seriously.

"The idea that this bill is going nowhere couldn't be further from the truth," said Janet Kavinoky of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a conference call organized by the American Public Transportation Association. "The reports of the demise of this bill are greatly exaggerated."

"Both Democrats and Republicans agree that it's time to get a transportation bill done," Kavinoky added. "There are provisions in both the House and Senate bill that the other sides won't be inclined to agree on, but there's more in common than not in the bill."

That's what's got the transit advocates alarmed -- for the first time in thirty years, the House wants to remove transit from the highway trust fund, which gets a dedicated stream of funding from the gas tax.

"I spend a tremendous amount of time talking to Chambers of Commerce. Across the board, one of the greatest demands for transportation investment is in public transportation. The better and more efficient your workforce is, the more productive it is. For developers -- they recognize that public transportation is an integral part of creating successful developments. They're concerned about a lack of public commitment to public transit."

The advocates fear that if transit is made part of the yearly appropriations process, funding for long-term projects will dry up.  The problem of moving the trust fund solely to the highway side is that it creates revenue uncertainty that will increase borrowing costs, " said Dr. William Ankner of APTA.

"Transit is critical to the highway program. You can't build enough capacity. We don't have the resources to build our way out of the congestion," added Ankner, who noted there have been no attempts to remove transit from the trust fund in thirty years.

The House is expected to take up its transportation bill next week; the Senate will take up its version tomorrow.