How L.A. spearheaded (another) innovative transit funding initiative

When not biking or walking, I depend on the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority to get me around the Philadelphia region. Beyond my immediate personal stake, I also prefer cities with less cars: Less pollution, less noise, fewer traffic deaths, and less city space sacrificed to roads. (Before it was eaten by cars, Logan “Square” used to be just as big and  beautiful as Rittenhouse, Washington, and Franklin parks. A nice fountain isn’t a worthwhile replacement.)

But transit needs to be efficient, expansive, relatively cheap, and reasonably clean to provide a comprehensive alternative to the automobile within urban areas. And that takes money. I’ve written for Next American City before on this issue, citing the model that L.A. and other cities have used to successfully raise revenues for transit. My latest piece for NAC explores a federal loan program, TIFIA, that could magnify local funding efforts:

Founded in 1998, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Actloan program (TIFIA) grants loans to state, regional or transportation infrastructure projects at very low interest rates and sensible repayment terms.

Fast forward two-plus years and Congress, against all odds, did something — albeit under pressure from Villaraigosa’s America Fast Forward campaign and its attendant policies. As part of the MAP-21 transportation funding reauthorization bill approved this summer afterlaborious delays, TIFIA was expanded significantly.

While this year only $122 million was available to cities like L.A. seeking to borrow money for transit, $750 million will be available in 2013 and $1 billion from 2014 on. In Washington, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has defended the spending, arguing against the notion that it will help the federal government leverage more from local partners. “Each dollar of Federal funds can provide up to $10 in TIFIA credit assistance and leverage $30 in transportation infrastructure investment,” LaHood wrote on his department’s blog.

There are issues with the program, but it the present political climate cities need to take what they can get. And our leaders, both at home and in D.C., need to fight to rectify TIFIA’s flaws.


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