Transportation advocates are still fighting to get more transit funding into the economic stimulus bill, with anywhere from $9-12 billion likely to be included in the final package. But another important question is where that money will go once it is disbursed.
The stimulus bill as currently proposed includes $30 billion in “highway funding,” but that term covers road maintenance, bridge repair, and even bicycle and pedestrian projects, not just new or bigger highways. Whether the stimulus actually gets spent in a smart way depends on the states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and municipalities that receive the money.
The Tri-State Campaign recently acquired the New York and New Jersey transportation “stimulus wish lists”; Connecticut has not made its list public, and has received plenty of deserved criticism for it. New Jersey’s list contains sprawl-inducing road projects, some of which may not be legally allowed to accept federal funding because they have not undergone needed environmental reviews. New York’s list comes off as reasonable, with plenty of funds for transit and maintenance and some cycling and pedestrian projects.
Below are links to the New York and New Jersey lists, brief summaries, and analysis. MTR offers these lists with the major caveat that they are not final and may change before stimulus money is given out. Also, it is unlikely that states will get as much money as they are requesting. However, the lists do provide a look into each state’s transportation priorities.
New York’s $3.7 billion stimulus wish list is split about 50-50 between roads and transit. NYSDOT’s piece of the pie is $1.9 billion, of which $260 million would go to non-MTA transit buses and two Albany-Rensselaer rail projects. Another $110 million would go to aviation.
This leaves $1.5 billion for NYSDOT road projects. The list does not seem to include any major expansion projects, at least in the downstate region; in many of the regions (such as NYC and the Capital Region) all road money goes toward maintenance. At least $51 million would go to bike/ped projects, with the main beneficiaries being the Bronx River Greenway and the upstate Erie Canalway Trail.
$324 million is requested for the Thruway Authority, all for maintenance (mostly for replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge’s crumbling deck).
Finally, the MTA is requesting $1.5 billion, mostly for behind-the-scenes capital projects like power substations. Stimulus money would also go towards the East Side Access project to bring the LIRR into Grand Central Terminal, rehabilitating 10 Brooklyn elevated subway stations, and raised grates that would come with attached bike racks.
[Update: As we said, these lists may change, and the MTA has made some changes to its list, most significantly the addition of the Fulton Street Transit Center.]
Unfortunately, the list has some troubling pieces that reinforce TSTC’s concerns that the state’s transportation policy may be backsliding. For example, while NJDOT’s list includes plenty of needed maintenance it also includes money for the Rt. 206 Bypass in Byram Township, a contested road widening project which was thought to be dead.
Furthermore, the state is seeking money for the widenings of the Garden State Parkway and NJ Turnpike. Federal subsidy of these sprawl-inducing road projects would be bad enough, but it’s not clear that this is even legal. Neither project has undergone the detailed environmental reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act to receive federal funds.
Despite reaching out through multiple channels, MTR hasn’t obtained a copy of Connecticut’s stimulus wish list — and neither has anyone else, it seems. [Update 2/23 - the list is finally available!] Some details have come out, however. Television station WTNH reports that ConnDOT has $700 million in “shovel ready” projects, while Design New Haven cites “high-profile sources” who say the state will concentrate its transportation dollars on widening the I-95 “Q” Bridge and paying for the way-over-budget (and very necessary) New Haven Rail Yard expansion.
Still, this secrecy has earned the governor’s office criticism from parties as diverse as the Hartford Business Journal and ConnPIRG. Notably, the federal stimulus bill will require all grants made with stimulus funds to be published online. Connecticut and the other states in the region should be following the federal lead when it comes to transparency.