The deal struck by congressional leaders on Sunday night to fund the US government through September includes funding for Caltrain electrification and three other new major transit capital projects. Congress must pass the budget by May 5 when stopgap funding runs out.
But the Caltrain project can’t move forward until it gets a signature from the Secretary of Transportation, which is a decision by the administration, not Congress.
Though Caltrain doesn’t have a green light to move forward, the chances of the project getting funded have just gone up, because there is a clear bi-partisan congressional agreement to fund new projects, and the same forces that worked behind the scenes to ensure Caltrain is listed will keep working to get the project unblocked.
Caltrain’s Full Funding Grant Agreement providing the $647 million share in federal funding for Caltrain electrification passed all of its application hurdles earlier in the year, but has been held up pending the Transportation Secretary’s Signature, after a bloc of inland California legislators urged the administration to halt the project.
Interestingly, the budget deal also lists funding for a Minneapolis light rail project which similarly had a block of legislators writing the Federal Transit Administration urging the agency not to approve the project. The Minnesota project is still lining up all of their state/regional/local funding, so they are in the process where Caltrain was last summer. The listing of the Minneapolis project is a good sign against a potential trend toward end runs around a rigorous merit-based process to approve federal funding for transit project.
What you can do
The most effective thing that Bay Area transit supporters can do is to continue to reach out to voters who live in the inland districts of the members of Congress blocking electrification. If you can easily get to San Jose Diridon, Santa Clara, San Francisco Transbay, or Oakland Jack London stations, you can hand out flyers to riders of the ACE, Capitol Corridor or San Joaquin trains and encourage them to call their members of congress blocking electrification. The tools you need are here.
Also, it’s helpful to call your Bay Area members of congress and thank them for continuing to stand up for funding for Caltrain electrification, transit around the Bay Area and the nation.