Election Victory! Mass transit wins in a landslide!
The U.S.'s mass transit future looks a bit brighter after Tuesday night's election. There were 32 state and local transit-related ballot initiatives being voted on that night, 23 of them were approved authorizing local expenditures of up to $75 billion for mass transit improvements.
California was one of the biggest winners, with the passage of a $9.95 billion state-wide bond measure for a high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The bonds will allow the state to begin financing the $45 billion project. Also in California, Los Angeles County voters approved a sales-tax increase that would raise up to $40 billion for transit improvements in the metropolitan region. Another winner, Honolulu, where the fight for light-rail has gotten pretty ugly over the past year or so.
These results are fantastic, but they're only the beginning. There's a risk that the state and federal matching dollars needed to fully fund these projects simply won't be there. However, with so much talk about infrastructure investment by president-elect Obama, there is a good chance that we will see more transportation funding going towards transit during the next administration. The major transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, will come up for reauthorization next year, and with large Democratic majorities in Congress there is a good chance that the amount of annual funding that is allocated to new transit projects will be increased.
How much money will be needed? A study by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development suggests that we'll need $248 billion to fund all the projects currently proposed across the country. Traditionally, the federal government pays for up to 50 percent of transit projects, meaning the federal government would need $124 billion for these projects. The last SAFETEA-LU bill, however, only allotted $1.6 billion per year over six years for a total of $9.6 billion. China, on the other hand, is getting ready to spend about $586 billion on infrastructure improvements, with $300 billion going towards rail improvements.