Proposed federal transportation budget could result in discontinued BART expansion projects

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In his budget proposal, President Donald Trump has outlined cuts that could significantly hinder two BART expansion projects.

The proposed budget would eliminate federal funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts Program, which can be used for projects costing at least $300 million by the fiscal year 2018. BART spokesperson Jim Allison said in an email that BART is seeking $900 million to $1 billion in New Starts funding for the financial year of 2019.

This funding would be used to increase capacity in BART and to finance a project that would extend the agency’s transportation lines to San Jose, according Allison.

The agency plans to apply for $1 billion in federal funding for its increased capacity project, which would aim to achieve two-minute intervals between transbay trains and would involve purchasing 306 new cars and upgrading maintenance facilities, among other renovations.

The Valley Transport Authority will apply for $1.5 billion for the second phase of the BART expansion project to San Jose. BART spokesperson Taylor Huckaby said the funding cuts could cause the San Jose expansion, which is already underway, to be discontinued.

“The impact would be devastating,” Huckaby said. “That whole phase (of the expansion project) would be put to rest.”

Overall, the proposed budget suggests a 13 percent cut in the Department of Transportation’s budget, which would decrease funding from $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion. Allison said in an email that the agency has received one New Starts grant in the past for $750 million to finance its extension to San Francisco International Airport, which was completed in 2003.

While the agency’s expansions will be in jeopardy if the budget is implemented, the fare prices for BART will not be affected.

Allison said BART has two separate budgets: an operating budget for day-to-day expenses and a capital budget for bigger expenses, such as expansion projects. The proposed cuts will only affect the capital budget.

Huckaby added, however, that this budget will negatively impact citizens of Berkeley by wasting taxpayer dollars and delaying projects. He added that BART has already conducted environmental reports for the projects that could be discontinued.

BART has already invested a significant amount of its own money into the expansions, but the loss of federal funds would be difficult to absorb, Allison said. President of the BART Board Rebecca Saltzman, however, does not believe that the cut will be as drastic as the president’s proposed budget suggests.

“What traditionally happens is that the president puts forward a budget, but this is a starting point, and the Congress puts something else forward,” Saltzman said. “We are hopeful that this budget, as proposed, will not be implemented.”

Contact Ambika Jaykrishna at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_jaykrishna.