Wednesday, January 13, 2010

DOT moves to speed up transit stimulus spending

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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says the DOT will ease the standards for spending economic stimulus funds in order to accelerate the construction of new transit projects. He specifically cited streetcar lines as candidates for such accelerated activity.

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"We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities, and how it makes our communities better places to live in," said LaHood (pictured at left) in announcing the change Wednesday in a speech to the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C.

He noted that the Bush administration devised a formula in 2005 to approve projects based mainly on transit times and costs. To this he would add "livability," measuring the effect of transportation choices on urban development and promoting a friendly environment.

Citing streetcar projects as one such option, LaHood said the federal government will soon award $1.5 billion in economic stimulus funds to "innovative" projects nationwide. This is in addition to $8 billion soon to be awarded to high speed passenger rail projects. 

"More than 30 rail industry manufacturers and suppliers have promised to establish or expand their base of operations in the United States if they're chosen by the states to build America's new high speed rail lines," LaHood said.

LaHood also urged Congress to move head with a new jobs bill that includes major investments in transportation (including $800 million for Amtrak). Called the "second stimulus" bill, it passed the House of Representatives in December and is awaiting action in the Senate