Transportation Policy

Trump's Transportation Boondoggles

Donald Trump's budget calls for cuts to transportation spending, yet his administration keeps giving the green light to dubious projects.

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A railroad
a.dombrowski/Flickr

The Federal Transportation Administration has just approved $658 million to electrify commuter rail lines in Silicon Valley. That money will allow California's long-delayed and wildy over-budget high-speed rail project to pass through the area.

This approval came Monday even though the entire California GOP congressional delegation is opposed to the subsidy, and even though Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said just last week that we don't have the money for it.

Baruch Feigenbaum—a transportation analyst at the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website—suspects that the administration buckled because Sen. Diane Feinstien (D–Ca.) pledged to oppose all Department of Transportation nominees if the funds weren't approved. "I think it was a decision that it just was not worth the political risk," he says. "There's no policy reason they would change."

That isn't the only dubious transit project getting a thumbs-up from Donald Trump's team. Also in their good graces is the currently stalled Maryland Purple Line, which would add another 16 miles of track to the fire-prone D.C. light rail system. The plans call for a cool $2 billion in public funds, $900 million of which would come from the feds.

Congress has already appropriated $325 million for the Purple Line, and the Federal Transportation Administration indicated this week that it will follow through with a full funding agreement. That leaves just one more hurdle: all the federal court rulings saying the project can't go forward until it conducts a more thorough study of the poor safety standards and ridership numbers of the light rail network that it plans to join.

As recently as March, the administration was promising to cut or phase out two major transportation grant programs. Now it's approving controversial rail projects that it could easily veto.

Trump's recently released 2018 budget blueprint leaves little room for this funding. The document calls for a 13 percent reduction in transportation expenditures, and a senior transportation official has declared that the department wants to "wind down new investments."

In principle, Feigenbaum says, this is the kind of transportation budget he can get behind. But what actually gets funded, he cautions, will probably look very different. "Congress," he notes, "is going to be the one with ultimate say." And there are few things legislators love more than bringing transit pork to their districts. That's why almost all the transportation cuts in Trump's "skinny budget" earlier this year were nixed.

If Trump can't even say no to a rail project advocated exclusively by the opposition party, at a time when that party is in the minority, there's little reason to think his latest proposal for transportation cuts will survive.

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  1. I think Trump thinks he is confounding people with his erratic behavior. That makes him no so smart.

    Were he to stick to the smaller government rhetoric and not be a drunken military industrial complex guy, he could have swayed a few people that were willing to give rational consideration to a guy that might try to approach a few of our biggest albatrosses.

    1. He won the election on a promise to jack up military spending and build a monstrously expensive piece of infrastructure that will fail at its one job. Anyone who believed him when he talked about reducing the size of government was taking too much fentanyl, or not enough fentanyl. Either way, they weren’t taking the exact right amount of fentanyl.

      1. Don’t worry. Pretty soon the gov’t answer will be free fentanyl for everyone to quell the unrest.
        a la brave new world

        1. Or they’ll put G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate in the atmosphere.

      2. All that is true, b-b-b-b-but not Hillary!

  2. Baruch Friedman?a transportation analyst at the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website?suspects that the administration buckled because Sen. Diane Feinstien (D?Ca.) pledged to oppose all Department of Transportation nominees if the funds weren’t approved. “I think it was a decision that it just was not worth the political risk,” he says. “There’s no policy reason they would change.”

    Then CALL HER ON IT.

    Jesus. Dare her to shut down an agency because a project her state cannot afford and will never be used isn’t funded to her liking.

    If Trump can’t even say no to a rail project advocated exclusively by the opposition party, at a time when that party is in the minority, there’s little reason to think his latest proposal for transportation cuts will survive.

    Well, at least he has his party in the majority and I bet they wouldn’t vote for and pass expensive boondoggles, amirite?

    1. The article says the Republicans opposed this because it would “help” the high-speed rail line, which I think we can all agree is a fantasy project that will never see the light of day. This line at least already exists, runs through a densely populated area, and would benefit from the upgrade.

      1. I’d ask, though, why is a rail line that is solely inside of CA a federal issue at all? Why should my tax dollars go to a money-losing “business” that doesn’t benefit me at all?

        The Left’s obsession with rail is amusing considering their assumption that they are on the bleeding edge of tech and science. I anxiously await their next demand that we improve horse and buggy manufacturing.

        1. Because all the best ppl live there. Why do you hate your betters?

        2. why is a rail line that is solely inside of CA a federal issue at all?

          Fair question.

          The Left’s obsession with rail

          Meh. The line is already there and could be a good alternative to eminent-domaining another few thousand houses in order to run another freeway through the area.

        3. Because Global Warming is everyone’s problem!

          The fact that California’s contractors and unions will get truckloads of money has nothing to do with it.

        4. If the conductor carries a box of raisins onto the train, it suddenly falls under the Commerce Clause, I believe.

    2. I do not think the republican party is in any way “his”. I still do not understand why they let him run as a republican.
      And as for standing up Ms Feinstein, or any one else for that matter, the republican party lacks the necessary male appendages. (in a totally PC, tolerant, judgement-free not gender-specific way of course)

  3. Hey c’mon folks. If these transit projects aren’t funded, granny and her grandson will starve because they can’t take the trolley to the local food bank, which is already endangered because of Trump, and her medicine will not be produced because the workers at the pharma plant won’t have a new train to commute on, etc. etc. Remember that before 1933, everyone in America died every year because of no safety net.

  4. “The Federal Transportation Administration has just approved $658 million to electrify commuter rail lines in Silicon Valley. That money will allow California’s long-delayed and wildy over-budget high-speed rail project to pass through the area.”

    No, it won’t. It’s claimed it will do so, but that ignores the Silicone Valley nimbys who are not about to allow a ‘high speed’ anything running though their oh, so precious bergs.

    1. Also, Silicon Valley — don’t they, you know, have a lot of money tied up there? They cannot just tax the internet geeks there?

  5. California’s political problems can only be solved by California’s voters.

    Now that things like gay marriage aren’t an issue anymore, I’m hoping that California’s voters will start concentrating on issues that matter.

    Has there ever been a more self-conflicted party in the history of the country than California’s Democratic Party?

    There’s no reason why agriculture and radical environmentalists should be in the same party. There’s no reason why illegal immigrant interests and unions should be in the same party.

    Tip O’Neill said that, “All politics is local”, but in California’s case, all local politics is national. People in California vote for progressive Democrats because of stupid shit some Republican in the South or the Midwest says. They vote for Democrats to stick it to the GOP in Arizona. Yeah, they may galvanize against Trump for whatever reason, too.

    But the more those wedge issues settle, the better it will be. California is a one party state, and it’s run like a one party state–but there’s no reason for that to continue when that one party is dominated by competing and contradictory interests. When the social conservatism boogeyman dies, we’ll move closer back to a two-party state–and that’ll be good for everybody.

    Here’s to hoping for the best anyway.

    1. I’m hoping that California’s voters will start concentrating on issues that matter.

      I’ll have what he’s having.

      1. What comes after a schedule I drug classification?

        1. Hysterical propaganda, mass arrests and lengthy imprisonments. Or was that a trick question?

    2. “but there’s no reason for that to continue when that one party is dominated by competing and contradictory interests”
      How so? All of those interests agree that the only answer to any problem is government spending, and plenty of it. They do not compete for the funding, because there is plenty for everyone, just raise taxes on the rich and spend on.
      I mean, only the rich drive cars and pay gas taxes, right? Only the rich have to actually have a job and get payroll taxes deducted and all that, right?
      So if they don’t secede, can we force them out?

      1. “All of those interests agree that the only answer to any problem is government spending, and plenty of it.”

        When the radical environmentalists are choking off the agricultural industry’s water?

        When illegal immigrants are undermining the unions’ ability to monopolize access to jobs?

        It isn’t all about agreeing on spending. Their interests are overlapping and contradictory.

        The only thing swing voters seem to agree on is that they should keep voting for Democrats so long as the Republican party is associated with the wrong side of wedge issues.

  6. Indeed, Trump clearly doesn’t give two shits about fiscal responsibility. This is known, since he’s been saying for month’s that he wants a huge domestic spending spree much like the one HRC likely would have undertaken.

    Once again, just to reiterate the point, Donald Trump is a Democrat wearing a Republican pin. The only reason he’s not a Democrat ‘officially’ is because they moved so far to the left that they ‘accidentally’ alienated their own blue-collar base.

    His whole shtick of ’tiles falling off our tunnels’ idiocy was a huge red flag that he plans on ‘creating jobs’ through giant and wasteful infrastructure spending.

    Is Reason only now figuring this out? Perhaps you forgot to pay attention to what matters in between breathless rumors of ‘Russian Hacking / Collusion’ bullshit?

    1. As recently as March, the administration was promising to cut or phase out two major transportation grant programs. Now it’s approving controversial rail projects that it could easily veto.

      Trump’s recently released 2018 budget blueprint leaves little room for this funding. The document calls for a 13 percent reduction in transportation expenditures, and a senior transportation official has declared that the department wants to “wind down new investments.”

  7. He has a very simple mind. Why don’t you guys get in there and manipulate him?

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