On Friday afternoon — long a favored time of the Bush Administration to drop bad news — came word that the federal Highway Trust Fund is going to run out of money before October. At first blush, it doesn’t seem as though this news would impact mass transportation in New York City, but, as with all things transit, the funds from one area impact the entire department. The mass transit infrastructure in New York City and throughout the nation could bear the brunt of this financial shortfall.
Times reporters David Stout and Matthew L. Wald illuminate the issue for us:
An important account in the federal Highway Trust Fund will run out of money this month, a situation that could hamper completion of road and bridge construction projects across the country, Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said on Friday.
Because the trust fund’s highway account is draining away, the Transportation Department will have to delay payments for projects, Ms. Peters said at a news conference. Since money from Washington typically pays 80 to 90 percent of the cost of federally aided road work, states with shaky finances may have to consider curtailing projects…
Another possible solution would be to transfer money to the highway account from the account that the trust fund maintains to finance mass transit. But lawmakers from large cities that rely on trust-fund aid for their transit systems could be expected to resist such a move.
Stout and Wald’s conclusion here is actually a total understatement and misrepresentation of the facts. As The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday, the Bush Administration would prefer to take money from mass transit and move it into the highway fund. But Congress rightly and soundly rejected that effort.
In the end, though, this detail doesn’t impact the bigger picture. The Department of Transportation is facing a shortage of money due to rising gas prices, more fuel efficient vehicles and fewer miles traveled. These causes of the shortfall should be applauded, but mass transit — and the nation’s transportation network on the whole — will suffer. Congress and USDOT need to figure out a forward-looking solution to this problem. No longer can we as a society afford to rely on measures that contribute to our energy and environmental crises.
On a local level, this news has direct ramifications for the MTA and, in particular, its current big-ticket items. A significant amount of the funding for Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway comes from the federal Department of Transportation, and clearly, these plans are not high up on the list of priorities coming out of a Republican-run DOT. While we may see a changing of the guard over the next few months, roads will always come first on a national level.
As the Second Ave. Subway trudges its way toward a completion, eight decades after the plans were first announced, forces are conspiring against it. But the MTA, the city and the state can’t let another obstacle interfere with this progress. The subways should be okay; the MTA should get its money; but nothing is taken for granted along the Second Ave. Subway.