As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Rise Of Big Rail

Elena Schor reports that mass transit got lowballed in the Senate markup of the stimulus as well.

The House's stimulus bill, which is slated for a final vote on Wednesday, included only $10 billion for rail and other public transportation projects, compared with $30 billion for roads. (According to House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), the decision was made to leave enough room for tax cuts.)

But what about the Senate, where the second- and third-tanked leaders are blue-state mass-transit boosters Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY)? As it turns out, the upper chamber of Congress is doing even worse.

The Senate Appropriations Committee's draft stimulus includes just $9.5 billion for mass transit projects -- "very frustrating," in the words of Adam Terando, who's done great work on this issue.

This is really frustrating. While I don't think progress on mass transit and rail ends with the stimulus, clearly the outer edges of those tax cuts could be scaled back to accommodate for spending which would simultaneously create jobs, improve quality of life and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As Atrios rightly notes, these spending priorities often come down to who yells more in the halls of Congress, and passenger rail doesn't have an effective set of town criers, otherwise known as lobbyists. That may change:

The newly minted OneRail coalition markets itself as a first time assembly of disparate groups representing commuter rail lines, freight rail lines, public transportation and the environment.

The goal, according to Anne Canby, a spokeswoman for the group, is to “make sure people are aware of the benefits of rail.”

Trains “are not always part of the public dialogue,” Canby, a former Delaware transportation secretary, said.

The group has yet to settle on specific policy goals other than the shared belief that more federal dollars should be spent on things like inner city rail lines that encourage people to get out of their cars or to pay for construction to ease freight choke points around cities.

Several trade and issue advocacy groups are part of OneRail, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Amtrak, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, the Association of American Railroads, and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership.

Notice the inclusion of the NRDC. We've seen blue-green alliances in California pushing through the Clean Trucks Program at the Port of Los Angeles. This kind of alliance has the potential to be very powerful, and I'm glad to see both sides stepping out of their issue silos to work together. It may be too late for the stimulus, but there will be other fights down the road.

Robert Cruickshank has more on the stimulus package fight in the House.

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