Wednesday, July 06, 2011

More SunRail Madness

Bad news for SunRail: Congress may eliminate funding for New Starts program. That is the program federal funding for SunRail may come from. Congress has yet to approve the $178 million grant recommended by the Federal Transit Administration. Transportation analyst Matthew Zisman sent this report to Joyce Rose, staff director of the House's Railroads Subcommittee.

It is true that Congress will still need to appropriate funding for New Starts program in order for Florida DOT to receive the final $72 million under the SunRail FFGA. However, full funding grant agreements are contracts between the federal government and project sponsors – a fact that is recognized by Congressional committees. Traditionally, the first dollars appropriated for New Starts (or allocated by FTA in the years there have not been New Starts earmarks) have been to honor FFGA commitments.

SunRail is not alone in this situation. There are a dozen other rail transit projects nationwide that are currently under a full funding grant agreement and will require federal funding in FY 2012.

The House Budget Resolution report language does call for the termination of the New Starts program. However, this is a non-binding resolution – the bill language of the resolution itself does not make a cut to New Starts. The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee will have the flexibility to allocate their General Fund budget authority as they see fit. These will be tough choices, because we must do more with less. But the House action will not be the last word -- the annual appropriations process requires both House and Senate action, followed by a conference to come to a unified agreement before the bill becomes law.

The SunRail project fares would not cover the cost of the first seven years of the rail running. SunRail must be operating by May 1, 2014 or be considered in breach of contract. This project is a mess backed because it serves the political and financial interests of John Mica, J.D. Alexander and Dean Cannon.

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