As Long as We Don’t Fall off the Fiscal Cliff, 2013 Will Be a Good Year for Transit

New Transit projects are all over the map in 2013. Illustration by Yonah Freemark

2013 will be a big year for the U.S. public transit system. This year, more than $64.3 billion worth of transit expansion projects will begin construction, continue construction, or enter into service in the United States. It’s a huge investment, much of it the product of extensive state and local spending.

What is evident is that certain cities are investing far more than others. Among American cities, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington stand out as regions that are currently investing particularly dramatically. Toronto has the biggest investments under way in Canada. These metropolitan areas have invested billions of local dollars in interconnected transit projects that will aid in the creation of more livable, multimodal environments.

Yet the federal government also continues to sponsor a number of these investments, contributing half and sometimes more of many of the projects’ costs. Washington’s involvement should not be downplayed. Especially not now.

The just-inked bipartisan compromise to head off the fiscal cliff will spare transportation funding in the short term. But an 8 percent reduction in federal discretionary spending (the “sequester”) — a threat that has yet to be neutralized — remains official policy and will be enforced on March 1 if no compromise is reached. That 8 percent cutback would reduce funding for the New Starts program that funds most major new transit expansion projects by $156 million in 2013 alone. Payments to the Transportation Trust Fund, which provides funding for transit maintenance programs and the purchase of new buses and trains (as well as money for highway projects), will decline by $471 million in the same period.

This is no phantom menace. Congressional Republicans in the U.S. House have demonstrated a deep-seeded desire to cut federal spending. The Obama Administration and Democrats in the Senate have shown themselves willing to compromise to a significant extent, and transportation is unlikely to be spared. The result could be significant cutbacks in funding — cutbacks that states and cities are unlikely to make up with their own revenues. Investments from Washington make transit expansion possible.

For now, though, the construction goes on. See below for the list of transit lines expected to open this year; projects beginning construction this year; and projects already under construction that will open after 2013, in that order. Not included are line renovations or intercity rail projects.

New Transit Capital Projects Opening in 2013

Atlanta Downtown Streetcar —A 2.6-mile streetcar route opening in late 2013 connecting Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site to Centennial Olympic Park

Austin Capital MetroRapid — A Bus Rapid Transit Line running along Austin’s busiest streets of Lamar, South Congress, and Burnet

Boston Fairmount Line Improvements — A rail expansion adding the Four Corners and Newmarket stations to Fairmount Commuter Rail Line

Denver West Line — A 12-mile light rail, part of Denver’s FasTracks program, from Union Station to Jefferson County Government Center/Golden

Miami Central Station — A new interchange commuter rail, metro, and AirportLink, better connecting downtown Miami to the region.

New Orleans UPT/Loyola Avenue Corridor — A 1-mile streetcar line opening in January connecting the Union Passenger Terminal bus station in the downtown business district to Canal Street in the French Quarter.

New York Nostrand/Rogers Avenues Bus Rapid Transit — A 9.3-mile BRT, opening in late 2013 connecting the Williamsburg Bridge in north Brooklyn, close to Manhattan, to Sheepshead Bay at the borough’s southern tip.

Roaring Fork Valley VelociRFTA — A Bus Rapid Transit line connecting well-traveled Aspen to outlying South Glenwood.

Salt Lake City Sugar House Streetcar — A 2-mile streetcar connecting Salt Lake City’s Sugar House Business District to a regional light rail system opening in December 2013

Salt Lake City Airport TRAX – The six mile regional light connecting Downtown Salt Lake City to Salt Lake International Airport, part of Salt Lake FrontLines 2015 program.

Seattle RapidRide E Line —Bus Rapid Transit opening in September connecting downtown to outlying Shoreline.

Seattle RapidRide F Line — Bus Rapid Transit opening in September from Burien to Renton via Tukwila.

Tampa MetroRapid North-South — A 17.5-mile Bus Rapid Transit from downtown to Temple Terrace Park and Ride, via Nebraska and Fletcher Avenues.

Tucson Modern Streetcar — A 3.9-mile streetcar spanning from University of Arizona to Downtown Tucson.

Twin Cities Cedar Avenue Bus Rapid Transit— A 16-mile Bus Rapid Transit opening in the Spring from 28th Avenue Station and Mall of America in Bloomington to 215th Street in Lakeville, via Eagan and Apple Valley.

Washington, DC Dulles Silver Line Metrorail Extension Phase 1— An 11.6-mile metro rail extension connecting suburban sections of Northern Virginia from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue.

Washington, DC H Street/Benning Road Streetcar— A streetcar line from Union Station to Oklahoma Avenue.

New Construction Starts in 2013

Charlotte Blue Line Extension — A 9.3-mile light rail opening in 2017 from Center City Charlotte to UNC Charlotte.

Cincinnati Downtown Streetcar — A 2-mile streetcar opening in 2015 from Over-the-Rhine to Riverfront.

Dallas Oak Cliff Streetcar— A 1.5-mile streetcar opening in 2014 from downtown Dallas to Oak Cliff.

Detroit M1 Rail — A 3.4-mile streetcar opening in 2015 from downtown Detroit to New Center.

Kansas City Streetcar— A 2-mile streetcar opening in 2015 on Main Street Downtown.

Los Angeles Downtown Streetcar— A streetcar line opening in 2015 in a loop from Civic Center to Fashion District and Staples Center, via Financial District.

New Orleans French Quarter Expansion Project— A 2.5-mile streetcar opening in 2015 from Canal Street in the French Quarter to Esplanade Avenue in the Marigny.

Ottawa Confederation Line — A light rail opening in May 2018 from Tunney’s Pasture to Blair, via downtown Ottawa.

Phoenix Northwest Extension Phase 1 — A 3.2-mile light rail, opening in 2016 from Montebello Avenue to Dunlap Avenue. Phase 2 will extend line to Metrocenter Mall.

St. Louis Loop Trolley — A streetcar opening in 2014 from Missouri History Museum to University Gate.

Seattle North Link — A 4.3-mile light rail opening in 2021 from Brooklyn to Northgate.

Seattle South Link— A 1.6-mile light rail opening in 2016 from SeaTac Airport to South 200th Street.

Yonah Freemark is a journalist who writes about cities and transportation. He created and continues to write for the website The Transport Politic, and has also contributed to Next American City, The Atlantic Cities, Planning, and Dissent.

Tags: washington, d.c., d.c.