BY MARK TAPSCOTT
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) awarded her latest Squeal Award Tuesday to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for sending hundreds of millions of tax dollars to a project to extend San Francisco’s public transit system to Silicon Valley in California’s Santa Clara Valley.
“Democrats attempted to earmark money in the COVID relief package earlier this year for a subway extension from San Francisco to Silicon Valley,” Ernst told reporters during a Tuesday news conference. The FTA is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Ernst was referring to a $140 million earmark in the package that was championed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose district is in San Francisco.
Pelosi has long backed federal funding for BART, such as in 2005 when she secured $65 million, prompting then BART General Manager Tom Margro to praise her “tireless leadership” on behalf of the transit system.
This earmark was removed from the Senate version of the COVID relief measure after the Senate Parliamentarian ruled the $140 million was unrelated to the bill’s purpose. Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, claimed“Republicans misled the public” about the project.
“That push was stripped in the Senate, but nonetheless the project is receiving $225 million from the Department of Transportation and this project has requested a total of $1.7 billion” from the federal government, Ernst said.
The Iowa Republican said the 6.5 mile-extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system “is projected to cost almost $6.7 billion, more than one billion dollars per mile. By comparison, my state of Iowa receives about $523 million from the federal government per year for roads and bridges.”
Ernst said construction on the proposed extension has not yet started, but the project is already more than $2 billion over budget and three to four years behind schedule.
A segment of the proposed extension to Santa Clara County would duplicate an existing rail service, Ernst said. She added that BART is projected to lose as much as $200 million annually over the next decade and has one of the lowest riderships among all public transit systems in the country.
A BART spokesman did not respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.
“The only way this subway system will run is if the taxpayers grease its wheels,” Ernst said. “We should not be giving taxpayer dollars to a project that is already a train wreck before it even leaves the station,” Ernst said.
In addition to naming FTA as recipient of her latest Squeal Award for wasting tax dollars, Ernst told reporters she is introducing legislation that would bar the federal government from funding any transportation project that is $1 billion or more over budget and projected to lose money each year for a decade into the future.
Adam Andrzejewski, Chief Executive Office of Open The Books, a Chicago-based non-profit that uses public information laws at all levels of government to post trillions of dollars in official spending, said a 2019 civil grand jury report obtained by his group said ridership on all rail systems in the previous five years for the San Francisco region was down 15 percent.
“They determined that only five percent of [area] commuters use the light rail system … yet the costs were up an amazing 54 percent over that five-year period,” Andrzejewski said.
He added that the grand jury report included testimony from transit employees who claimed the rail system should be scrapped in favor of a bus system.
“These employees were not fans of light rail, they said using buses instead of rail would halve the costs and increase ridership by 100 percent,” he said.
“If we’re going to do infrastructure, these transit systems must be sustainable without taxpayer subsidies,” Andrzejewski said, adding that in the San Francisco/Santa Clara Valley region “taxpayers subsidize 92 percent” of the costs of public transit.
“If we’re going to do infrastructure, we’ve got to make sure these transportation systems are not employment farms for public employees,” he said.
Andrzejewski pointed to the Phoenix area where voters decided to end light rail transit and go with a bus-based system.
Congressional correspondent Mark Tapscott may be contacted at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @mtapscott and on Parler at @Mtapscott.