Transit System Infrastructure Funding Faulted
DALLAS – The nation's aging and under-funded transit infrastructure is making it almost impossible meet growing demand for public transportation, according to operators of systems across the U.S.
"We're digging ourselves into a very deep hole that keeps getting deeper," Richard White, acting chief executive officer of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), said during a news conference on Thursday. "We should be spending $43 billion per year on transit at all levels of government, and that's more than twice what we are spending by state, local, and federal governments."
The Federal Transit Administration has estimated the transit maintenance backlog at $86 billion and the total grows by $2.5 billion a year, White said.
The recently enacted Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act will provide $61 billion of federal funding for transit through 2020, including $48.7 billion in formula-based allocations and $11.5 billion of capital improvement grants, but the long-term funding stream is not reliable, said Ed Reiskin, director of transportation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
"The FAST Act provides five years of funding but the Congress essentially punted on the revenue for it," Reiskin said. "It is not sustainable and doesn't provide the funding needed to expand transit systems."
Bay Area transit agencies have $10 billion of infrastructure needs over the next 10 years while available funding over the period is estimated at less than $4 billion, he said.
"We're not going to be able to meet the need for transit," Reiskin said. "The foundation we need to build upon is not sound."
Comprehensive tax reform in 2017 is a potential source of additional federal funding, White said.
"We have to get infrastructure funding on the national agenda," White said. "It has to be brought up during the presidential campaign. Congress and the presidential candidates need to know that they didn't fix the problem with the FAST Act."
Portions of the Metrorail system operated by Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority will be shut down in phases over the next year to replace worn-out equipment, said CEO Paul Wiedefeld.
"The Metro system has been under-maintained and neglected because of a lack of funding," he said. "Riders may be asked to avoid Metro segments for the next year because we have to catch up on our maintenance. We are trying to do three years of maintenance in just one."
Nine people were killed in the 2009 collision of two Metro trains, and in January 2015 one rider died of smoke inhalation from a transformer fire.
The reconstruction work will begin in June and should be completed by March.
WMATA is the only transit system in the U.S. without a dedicated revenue source, Wiedefeld said. "It has taken decades of deferred maintenance and investments just not being made and we cannot wait any longer," he said. "We have to deal with these issues."
Metro has estimated that it will require $25 billion over the next 10 years to run the system, address the critical safety issues identified by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Transit Administration, and catch up on deferred maintenance.
The Metro system's $1.8 billion annual operating budget currently comes from fares and subsidies from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Federal funding contributes $150 million per year to Metro's capital budget.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has a $5 billion maintenance backlog for bringing its system in the Philadelphia area to a stage of good repair, said general manager Jeffrey Knueppel.
"It's a very tough environment," he said. "We have to spend money on expensive replacement projects when we could have repaired old, worn-out equipment years ago for much less."