Study: US needs $78bn for transit

After reviewing all bus, rail and other transit assets, the US Federal Transit Administration found one-third of them to be in poor or marginal condition. The need makes a recent $775m ‘repair fund’ look paltry.

A Federal assessment of the US’ transit sector found that the nation needs $77.7 billion to bring its rail and bus systems into a state of good repair, plus an additional $14.4 billion per year just to maintain them.

“This report shows the clear need to reinvest in our bus, subway and light rail systems,” Ray LaHood, the US Secretary of Transportation, said in a statement announcing the study’s findings.

US Transit: in bad shape

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the transit investment arm of the Department of Transportation, said it had evaluated, “to the best of our knowledge”, all the transit assets in the US and found roughly one-third to be in poor or marginal condition.

The assets reviewed included the various types of commuter rail cars owned by local transit authorities as well as their rail tracks and structures, facilities, bus fleets and other inventory. Poor or marginal condition meant that they had either just reached or gone past their useful life and were in need of repair or replacement.

Bringing them up to a state of good repair would cost $77.7 billion. Most of that figure can be attributed to rail assets, FTA said, though more than 40 percent of the nation’s buses are also in poor to marginal condition.

But the US has only limited funds available to deal with the problem, and when it doles out the money, competition is fierce. For example, in April 2009, the FTA announced availability of $775 million through a competitive “State of Good Repair” funding programme. It received approximately 400 applications asking for $4.2 billion. Winners of the $775 million will be announced later this year.

In recent years, the FTA began looking at finding ways to involve the private sector in helping build and maintain the US’ transit systems. But to date, its so-called Penta-P, or Public-Private Partnership Pilot Programme, has only resulted in one deal being awarded, the $2.1 billion Eagle Public-Private Partnership in Denver, Colorado.