More flexible federal rail and transit infrastructure funding expected

Rail projects to be funded by the Biden administration’s infrastructure package in the works won’t need to be “shovel-ready”, but can be funded even if they are in an earlier stage of planning and design, according presenters at recent Dumbarton Corridor updates meetings.   Under the Obama Administration’s stimulus bill in 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, projects needed to be “shovel-ready” to be funded, with completed environmental review and a high level of engineering design.

Also, Congress is reported to be restoring “earmarks”, the practice of allowing members of Congress to negotiate to include projects in their districts.  Regions that make an effort to work with influential members of congress have an opportunity to get projects funded.

These changes mean that Bay Area projects have a much greater likelihood of getting funding under the Biden administration. This could benefit the Caltrain corridor and network investments such as the Downtown Extension connecting Caltrain to the Salesforce terminal, the Dumbarton corridor, grade separations, and more.

The less restrictive eligibility criteria could also pose risks. Projects could be funded that are not well-planned and well-designed, resulting in high costs to build, and a system that is poorly connected at the end of the day.

For these reasons, it will be important to follow and weigh in on projects in the works, because there’s a decent chance they may happen.  Also, we’ll keep you posted on initiatives to improve regional rail and transit network planning and project delivery, to increase the likelihood of high quality cost-effective projects.