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Looking Ahead to the Year in Transit Expansion

11:09 AM CST on January 5, 2015

After significant transit construction in the United States in 2014, the next year will see another impressive round of groundbreakings and new openings. That's according to Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic, who has catalogued major transit expansion projects throughout the U.S. and Canada for the last six years.

In 2015, we'll see major light rail projects begin service in Houston and Phoenix, new subway and commuter rail extensions welcome passengers in New York and Boston, and bus rapid transit routes open in Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Hartford, Connecticut. Meanwhile, major projects will be breaking ground in Orlando, San Diego, and Baltimore.

Freemark says cities are finding ways to make transit projects happen, even without strong federal support:

There are dozens of additional transit projects in cities throughout the continent that commenced construction prior to 2015 and which will be completed next year or later. What is unquestionably true is that the overall investment in transit is enormous: There is more than $90 billion being spent on new projects under construction and more than $7 billion being spent on major renovations underway in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico (these are costs across the board, covering the entire construction process, which in almost every case is a multi-year affair), accounting for a total of 667 new miles of fixed-route transit services.

That’s down from 737 miles of projects under construction last year -- though in 2014, bus rapid transit projects made up a larger share of overall investments compared to 2015.

The failure of the U.S. federal government to increase the gas tax since 1993 -- in spite of inflation, an increasing population, and degraded infrastructure -- has dominated the discussion on transportation policy since the late 2000s.* All that discussion, though, has failed to result in the development of long-term national revenue sources that accommodate the needs of municipalities interested in expanding their local transportation systems, and funding has stagnated. As a reaction to that state of relative austerity, policymakers from Arizona to Maine have argued for “fix-it-first” policies that emphasize enhancements of the existing system over any new construction.

The lack of expansion in federal revenues, however, has not produced a cut in spending on construction of new transit lines operating in fixed guideways -- far from it, as localities and states have become adept at cobbling together varying sources of funding for their projects. As this summary of major transit investments shows, in 2015 there are expansion projects underway on about 100 projects in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, in addition to dozens of additional projects in various stages of planning. There should be no doubt about the interest of American metropolitan regions in investing in the future of their public transportation networks.

On the downside, Freemark notes: Two of the biggest light rail expansions in the country, suburban DC's Purple Line and Baltimore's Red Line, are in jeopardy after the election of Republican Governor Larry Hogan in Maryland.

Elsewhere on the Network today: WalkBikeJersey reports that pedestrians account for an increasing share of traffic fatalities in the Garden State. Strong Towns says America has to address its infrastructure and transportation problems by spending smarter, not by spending more. And Copenhagenize explains Denmark's "traffic playgrounds for kids," car-free streets where children learn about street safety.

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