Most federal highway, transit funds won't be affected by 'sequester'

An Amtrak Acela train blows snow as it passes through Princeton Junction in 2010. The rail service is facing budget cuts.
An Amtrak Acela train blows snow as it passes through Princeton Junction in 2010. The rail service is facing budget cuts. (Associated Press)
Posted: March 01, 2013

Motorists and public transit users have little to fear from impending federal budget cuts.

Most of the federal money for highways and mass transit operations comes from the Highway Trust Fund, which is exempt from the looming sequester, the mechanism that could require $85 billion in federal spending cuts this year.

However, some rail or bus expansion projects could be delayed by cuts to the Federal Transit Administration's "New Starts" program. A 7.8 percent cut would mean about $150 million from a budget of $1.9 billion a year.

"Our concern is that this is a further constraint on moving forward on projects that are important to expanding transit access all across the country," said Brian Tynan, director of government relations for American Public Transportation Association.

Amtrak faces a cut of $36 million from its federal operating grant of $466 million and a $78 million cut in federal funds for construction, vehicles, and debt payments.

But the national railroad is "planning to take actions that would allow us to withstand a funding cut and not cut service," said spokesman Craig Schulz. "We have been controlling costs and managing budgets in anticipation of a possible reduction in federal funding.

"The continued lack of predictable federal appropriations makes proper budgeting and future planning extremely difficult," Schulz said.

SEPTA expects no cuts in federal funding, though "we will still be cautious with the FY2013 funding until final appropriations are released." spokeswoman Jerria Williams said.

NJ Transit, likewise, seems safe from cuts to existing operations, though spokesman John Durso said that "it remains too early to speculate on any possible impacts."


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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