California is Winning the Federal Transit Funding Battle

California is winning the federal transit funding battle. With 7 out of the 18 large transit projects either currently being funded or just one step away in the pipeline, California has been and will likely continue to receive the lion’s share of funding from the Fixed Guideway Capital Investment Grants program.

In my previous post, I presented an overall picture of federal transportation funding and where transit fits into that equation. Although these grants just are barely more than one-third of one percent of total federal transportation funding, they play a significant role in moving major transit projects forward. And right now, those projects are moving forward in California (and a few of the other states generally outside of the places that have large legacy transit systems).

Below is a map of all of the locations of the projects currently being funded or in the pipeline (note that one of the projects in Southern California is actually in San Diego, not Los Angeles). Click on the map to check out an interactive version where you can explore each project in more detail.mapsdataexport-2016-10-02


Right now, California had four of the nine projects currently receiving funds through signed Full Funding Grant Agreements and three of the nine projects that are in the Engineering phase (which is the last step before a Full Funding Grant Agreement). Out of a total of $8.2 billion in funding for current projects receiving funds, $3.7 billion, or 46%, is headed to California. Similarly, the projects in Engineering expect to get $7.3 billion including $2.9 billion, or 40%, for California. The only other states with more than one project are Colorado with one funded project and one in the pipeline and Texas with two projects in the pipeline, although one is on hold and potentially being rethought.

So why is California getting such a large share of available funds? I think it’s really a combination of three things:

  1. California has made it a priority to invest in its transit systems with significant state and local funds going toward these projects. Most federal grants require a 50% or higher local match and California has a history of self-help counties that have taxed themselves to provide funding for transit. Those local dollars are then matched and leveraged with federal grants.
  2. The program used to be only geared towards expansions and new lines. This benefited places that had not built out as extensive of a transit system (so mostly not places with legacy systems) since their lines would be more competitive in the scoring criteria. This is changing with the addition of Core Capacity grants in the program for upgrades to capacity on existing systems but those projects are only getting into the pipeline now (there are two in the Engineering phase).
  3. I am only looking at the projects currently being funded or in the last step of the pipeline. In the last few years, several large grants have been completed and taken off the books including a record $2.6 billion grant for the East Side Access project to bring the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central in New York. If those projects were still included, the numbers would look quite different.

Check out the map and data for yourself and leave a comment on what you think!


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