A rendering of the Purple Line. Image by the State of Maryland.

President Trump's budget proposal will cast a devastating blow against transit if it passes through Congress. On the chopping block are the Purple Line and Alexandria's West End Bus Rapid Transit, along with dozens of other projects across the nation.

The administration is continuing its anti-urban, anti-government campaign by slashing programs that affect virtually every American. The transit cuts are particularly draconian, and have the potential to impact transit construction for decades.

Trump’s proposal would bar the Federal Transit Administration from issuing any new Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGAs), though it would still honor those already signed. FFGAs are the official commitment from the federal government to pay their promised share of a transit project they’ve approved.

At the moment, following a decade of planning and design, the Maryland Purple Line is on the cusp of clearing the final hurdle and getting the green light. An agreement for federal funding was supposed to be signed on August 8 of last year, but just four days before that, a federal judge vacated the FTA’s record of decision due to concerns about the way the environmental impact study was conducted.

Maryland has appealed that decision, and expects for it to be overturned, but as yet, the federal funding agreement remains to be signed. Now it may never happen, if Trump has his way.

The Purple Line is just the tip of the iceberg

Another local project is Alexandria’s West End BRT, a five-mile line between the Pentagon and Van Dorn Metro stations. It would serve dense, but transit-starved areas near I-395, including Shirlington and the Mark Center, a major jobs destination. Like Metroway, which serves another part of Alexandria, this new line would have stops farther apart and dedicated bus lanes.

Other projects across the country are also on the chopping block, including Phase II of the Second Avenue Subway in New York (to 125th Street), new Amtrak tunnels under the Hudson River, Phase III of the Los Angeles Purple Line (to Westwood), BART extension to downtown San Jose, Caltrain electrification, and the Seattle Link extension to Lynnwood.

These cuts will stop new transit construction for years. But the demand for projects will continue to rise. If funding is ever restored, the backlog will take years to address, and many of these projects may never actually happen. 

This is not economically intelligent

We'll feel their absence forever. The stoppage of work on the Second Avenue Subway brought on by New York’s financial crisis in 1975 is only now being caught up with, four decades later. Proposed subway lines in Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, and Miami withered in the poor funding environment of the Reagan era.

Voters in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and many other cities recently passed funding increases for transit. These cities are making strides to become more walkable and more livable. Eradicating the transit program will set back these efforts, for relatively meager savings in the federal budget.

Moreover, while building subways may look like a negative on the balance sheet, it isn’t. America’s metropolitan regions are the economic engines of the country. Transit enables them to be more efficient and sustainable. Places like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington wouldn’t be possible without transit. And without these projects, the economy will suffer.

Transit projects like these aren’t just subsidies. They’re investments. And without those investments, we will stagnate.

Luckily, Presidential Budget Requests are just that - a request. Obama included tons of things in his that the administration knew Congress would never consider. Many of the cuts Trump wants to make will not pass muster in Congress. But it does set a tone, and with both houses in Republican hands, some of these cuts may indeed make it through to reality.

Tagged: fta, purple line

Jonathan Neeley is the staff editor at Greater Greater Washington. He lives in Brookland.