Tuesday, April 14, 2009

House streetcar champion pushes “fast start” bill

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House Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.),  an ardent supporter of streetcars and light rail transit, has drafted the “Fast Starts Program Act of 2009,” designed to recapture “Small Starts” funding that Blumenauer and others say has been largely diverted to Bus Rapid Transit projects instead.

Language in the draft bill bluntly declares, “A delay in authorizing grants under the Small Starts program has created a backlog of streetcar projects requiring attention outside of that program.”

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The bill also takes pains to specifically identify the given mode, stating “the term ‘streetcar project’ means a new fixed guideway capital project that is electricity and rail based.”

As reported in the February issue of Railway Age, in recent years the Federal Transit Administration, encouraged by the Bush Administration, touted Bus Rapid Transit as an alternate, less costly  “fixed guideway” mode that small urban areas could more readily afford.

Bluemenauer’s office also is drafting a revised “Small Starts” bill for the current congressional session, the “Federal Streetcar Revitalization Act of 2009,” which would increase the amount of federal funding support available to potential streetcar projects. The draft legislation emphasizes economic redevelopment potential, land use, and other environmental impacts, including reduction of greenhouse gas emissions—language that may be targeted specifically toward thwarting use of funds by diesel bus options.