Passenger Rail

Trump plans $2.3bn cut to annual transport fund

A Democratic senator has warned cuts to transport funding in US President Donald Trump’s first budget will “send a catastrophic ripple effect” through the nation’s entire economy.

Trump handed down his first budget outline to Congress last week.

The document, A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again, includes $30 billion in extra funding for the Department of Defense, in part to step-up the United States’ campaign against ISIS, as well as an additional $3 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, to kick-off construction of Trump’s famous Wall project along the Mexican border.

To account for the extra spending, Trump has proposed $18 billion in budget reductions, including $2.4 billion in cuts to the Department of Transport, which would be a 13% decrease in funding.

The proposal includes cuts to Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, which was to seed funding for new transit projects including Gateway, a proposed rail tunnel under the Hudson River designed to reduce congestion across New York City’s commuter network.

The announcement has been met with criticism from transport advocates.

An Amtrak study released on March 15 said Gateway would have a benefit-cost ratio of four-to-one; that is, the project would generate $4 in benefits for every $1 spent.

Amtrak says the additional Hudson River crossing is needed to replace the only existing tunnel, which is being eroded by corrosives left by floodwaters as a result of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez has been particularly vocal of the proposed cuts to New Starts and subsequently the threat of losing Gateway, labelling Trump’s budget “a house of horrors”.

“President Trump is single-handedly trying to derail Gateway and send a catastrophic ripple effect that will cause irreparable harm to our regional and national economies,” Menendez said.

“The New Starts Program is the critical element of how we were going to fund Gateway.

“We generate nearly 25% of GDP for the entire country in our region. The new trans-Hudson tunnels are incredibly important for that.

“This budget is dead on arrival.”

US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao downplayed the significance of Trump’s proposed cuts.

Chao said the measures would not immediately impact Department of Transportation staff numbers, and were “largely geared towards future program investments”.

“This is just the beginning of the budget process, not the end,” Chao said.

“We will see the more complete picture when [the Office of Management and Budget] releases its final FY 2018 budget in May …

“In fact, OMB Director Mulvaney noted yesterday that the strategy behind the savings in the DOT budget is to move money out of existing, inefficient programs and hold these funds for more efficient programs that will be included in the infrastructure package under development.”

Monetary figures in this story are in US Dollars.