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What Trump's proposed transportation budget means for Ohio

"It really potentially cuts future transit expansions in the country in general. It's not just Ohio; in the whole country, public transit is at risk," Conrad said. "In Ohio, without the federal support, I do not see those expansions."

 

President Donald Trump's preliminary budget slashes U.S. Department of Transportation funding 13 percent, or $2.4 billion.

Trump calls for cuts to funding for transit, long-distance Amtrak train routes and the TIGER grant program, and moves air traffic control outside of the government, among other things.

Trump's preliminary budget still has to be approved by Congress, who could make a number of changes to his proposals.

Transit funding

Transit takes a hit in the proposal, which cuts funding to the Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Program (New Starts) and the DOT's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.

"We're barely hanging on. It's just going to make the existing problems even worse," said Kirt Conrad, president of the Ohio Public Transit Association and CEO of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority.

Ohio has received funding for a number of transit projects from both New Starts and TIGER grants.

The New Starts program, which was authorized to fund $2.3 billion in projects through 2020, is designed to fund new rail or bus-rapid transit lines or to expand existing lines.

For example, the New Starts program provided most of the funding for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's HealthLine on Euclid Avenue.  

"It really potentially cuts future transit expansions in the country in general. It's not just Ohio; in the whole country, public transit is at risk," Conrad said. "In Ohio, without the federal support, I do not see those expansions."

The TIGER grant program - a $499 million program - is a major source of transit funding in Ohio, which restricts its gas tax revenue to road projects.

TIGER grants have funded work on a handful of RTA stations, including the Little Italy-University Circle station and the University-Cedar station.

The DOT last year also awarded two TIGER grants that improved bicycle infrastructure in Northeast Ohio.

One provided $7.95 million to the Cleveland Metroparks to expand its network of bike and pedestrian trails. The other sent $5 million to Akron to develop the downtown promenade, a green corridor on Main Street that features dedicated bike lanes.

Trump's proposal on cutting New Starts funding reads, "Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects."

For transit systems in Ohio, which already face financial struggles, that could be a challenge.

Ohio funds only one percent of public transportation in the state, far below the 10 percent recommended by the Ohio Department of Transportation's Transit Needs Study.

The state's proposed transportation budget calls for a 33 percent, or $10 million, increase in annual transit funding in the next biennium budget, but that still falls short of the $34 million transit agencies are going to lose annually in Medicaid MCO sales tax revenue starting in 2019.

Losing federal funds after losing state Medicaid MCO sales tax funding will make operations even more challenging for systems like RTA, which had to cut service and raise fares last year to shore up a funding gap.

"Access to public transit is just getting worse, not better, in Ohio," said Conrad.

 

 

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