National debate, local interests

It’s easy to think of the stimulus bill as some abstract thing: the total dollars amount involved is so big that it’s hard to visualize, and the funding pots it’s going into are abstract enough that we don;t know what they really mean, either.

But, as the Chronicle reports, we’re taling about real projects in real places that real people will use:

Houston Metro is due to receive as much as $180 million over the next 12 months from a huge economic stimulus bill to help jump-start construction of two light rail lines, a House committee chairman said Wednesday.

The long-delayed rail lines on the city’s north and southeast sides are a “very high-rated project,” said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The project, he said, is ready to go and has cleared all but one step of a federal review.

However, it’s not clear that money will materialize: the Senate is considering ammendments that would reduce transit funding in the bill.

Kit Bond (R-Missouri), who has previously discouraged Congressional attempts to address climate change on the ground that doing so would be bad for business, will propose an amendment that would redirect the $5.5 billion of competitive grants (which are currently available to both highways and transit, at the discretion of Ray LaHood) so that those funds would apply only to highways and bridges; Barbara Boxer plans to endorse this amendment. Kit Bond may also propose another amendment that would redirect $2 billion high-speed rail allocation to — you guessed it — highways.

which means:

By redirecting the $5.5 billion to the highway program, it becomes nearly impossible to secure funding for new transit projects (New Starts program) or modernizing old rail systems.

(more coverage here.)

So what happens in Washington will definitely have an effect here.


[update: see also Houston Tomorrow.]

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