Trump budget threatens underground mega-projects 30 Mar 2017

Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk

Four key underground transportation projects, and 51 other key transit programs across the USA, are under threat following proposals to slash road and rail infrastructure spending as part of President Donald Trump’s so-called skinny budget.

BART Silicon Valley Extension to San Jose

The 9.5km Phase II Silicon Valley Extension of the BART transit system through 8km of twin-running tunnels and three underground stations to downtown San Jose (Fig 1), is costed by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) at US$4.7 billion.

Fig 1. Phase II extension route
Fig 1. Phase II extension route
Fig 2. BART Silicon Valley Extension
Fig 2. BART Silicon Valley Extension

Of this, US$1.5 billion (nearly 30%) had been expected from the New Starts Program of the Federal Transit Administration. $2.5 billion will be raised via a local sales tax approved by Santa Clara voters in the November 2016 ballot.

The Phase II projecthas provisional New Starts Project Development (NSPD) although design is at an advanced stage ahead of confirmation of environmental permitting and expected FFGA status by December 2017.

Just days before the shock budget cuts announcement, a VTA spokesman told TunnelTalk: “Based on the current schedule, construction procurement activities are planned for late 2018 with heavy construction scheduled for mid-2019. The format and specific procurement process is likely to be finalized in early 2018, but the evaluation of contracting strategy and packaging is likely to begin in mid-2017.”

The at-grade Phase I of the Silicon Valley BART Extension, between Warm Springs and Berryessa (Fig 2), is scheduled to enter into service later this year.


The squeeze has left city transit chiefs reeling. “We did not anticipate a scenario in which the Federal Government would walk away from the table completely after decades of partnership with cities across the country,” said Peter Rogoff, Chief Executive of Seattle Sound Transit. “The move to zero-out Federal funding for regional infrastructure projects is a body blow.”

The four multi-billion underground mega-projects that are affected, which are at varying stages of engineering design and had previously been granted provisional approval for up to 30% of their total budget from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment New Starts Program, are: the Silicon Valley Phase II Extension of the BART system in northern California to San Jose, the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway extension in New York City, Section 3 of the Westside Purple Line Extension of the Los Angeles Metro in California; and the Hudson River Rail Tunnel project between New Jersey and New York.

Between them, the Silicon Valley Phase II Extension and the Second Avenue Subway Extension are dependent upon Federal funding for US$3.6 billion of their combined US$11 billion cost. The Westside Purple Line Extension Section 3 and Hudson River Rail Tunnel projects have yet to submit details of how much Federal funding they will require, but prior to the announcement of the latest budget proposals they had secured funding agreements in principle.

The proposed cuts to the New Starts program, which is a discretionary fund that currently includes 69 top-priority US transit projects, form part of a planned 13% or US$2.4 billion a year cut to the discretionary element of the Federal Transportation Department’s budget.

Second Avenue Subway Extension
Fig 3. Four phases of 2<sup>nd</sup> Ave Subway
Fig 3. Four phases of 2nd Ave Subway

In the run-up to the recent opening of the US$4.45 billion 3.25km-long Phase I of the 2nd Avenue Subway in New York City in January, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) applied successfully to the Federal Transit Administration for consideration of Federal funding Phase 2.

Extension of the existing alignment at its current northern terminus at 96th Street to the Lexington Avenue Line at 125th Street in Harlem, a distance of 2.1km, is budgeted by MTA at $6 billion, with the owner seeking $2 billion from the New Starts Program. Two further phases to the south would take the new line a further 8km to Hanover Square in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan (Fig 3).

MTA completed the environmental review process with a record of decision in 2004 and expects to complete an environmental re-evaluation of Phase 2 in early 2018; to have the project enter the engineering phase in late 2018; and had expected to receive a full funding grant agreement in 2020 ahead of a seven to nine year construction program.


Fourteen of these 69 projects, including the underground first and second sections of the Westside Purple Line in Los Angeles with US$1.25 billion and US$1.19 billion of Federal New Starts funding respectively; the 3.1km-long Los Angeles Metro Regional Connector with US$670 million of Federal funding, and the 2.75km Central Subway Phase II in San Francisco with US$942 million of Federal funding, have already received full funding grant agreement (FFGA) status and are in construction.

The four outstanding underground projects in California and New York, however, have only completed the first of two stages of the Federal New Starts funding process, and currently hold New Starts Project Development (NSPD) status. This entitles them to spend money on more detailed engineering design so as to inform an environmental review process ahead of being granted the formal record of decision (ROD) and subsequent New Starts FFGA status.

Senior officials representing a number of the affected projects are concerned about the impact of the proposed Trump transportation budget cuts. In the wake of the budget announcement, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) dispatched a number of high-profile representatives to Washington DC, including its General Manager, to lobby in support of the underground BART extension to San Jose. Among the lobby group were also locally elected politicians and business leaders.

Bernice Alaniz, for the VTA, told TunnelTalk: “VTA is concerned about contradicting commitments versus actions related to transportation infrastructure investment, but the President’s proposed ‘skinny budget’ for fiscal year 2018 is only the first of many steps in the Federal Budget process.”

Hudson Rail Tunnel project

The multi-billion Hudson Tunnel Project has been broken out of the wider $13.7 billion Northeast Corridor Gateway Program (once known as the ARC Project) that is designed to increase rail capacity for both Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains to and through New York City and Manhattan Island.

Cracks and delaminated concrete damage in Hudson Tunnel
Cracks and delaminated concrete damage in Hudson Tunnel

Procurement of the project’s new rail tunnels under the river from New Jersey to Manhattan has been fast-tracked to allow repairs to the existing rail tunnel connection under the Hudson.

Inundation of the existing rail tunnel during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 caused extensive long-term damage that now requires its urgent rehabilitation. Some 450 trains pass through the existing 106-year-old tunnel each day, and full repairs can only be carried out once new TBM-driven tunnels have been constructed.

To that end an 800ft x 50ft wide x 35ft tall concrete casing or box tunnel, has been constructed by Tutor Perini at a contract cost of US$133 million and funded by the Federal Department of Transportation via its Superstorm Sandy Relief Fund.The structure is located at the Hudson Yards facility in the heart of Manhattan in order to preserve the right of way for two new rail tunnels under the Hudson and into Penn Station. The structure protects the rail route through the site of a multi-billion office and retail development currently under construction at the Hudson Yards location.

Fig 4. New Hudson Rail Tunnel alignment
Fig 4. New Hudson Rail Tunnel alignment

Preparation of an environmental impact statement for the running tunnels that will emerge out of the concrete casing structure is expected to be completed in March next year (2018), and a preferred alignment has been selected (Fig 4).

The current schedule and preliminary budget, anticipates the project will enter engineering design in the second quarter of 2018, and receive a full funding grant agreement (FFGA) from the FTA New Starts Program in Spring 2019. Without Federal funding from the New Starts Program, however, the project now faces an uncertain future.


Although rescoping or possible cancellation of the project was not being considered at this time, Alaniz added: “Our first approach would be looking at funding strategies if in fact there develops a for-certain funding gap.”

This response is precisely what President Trump, who promised trillions of dollars worth of spending to repair what he referred to as America’s crumbling infrastructure during his election campaign, appears to have hoped for. In his Budget Blueprint it stated clearly: “Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from them” and that in pursuit of this aim “the President’s 2018 budget limits funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program (New Starts) to projects with existing full funding grant agreements only”. Local residents in Santa Clara County in California are already funding US$1.5 billion of the US$4.6 billion BART extension cost via a specific sales tax measure passed in November 2016 and now face the possibility of having to inject more cash to save the project.

In Los Angeles, the Metro authority is similarly concerned about the shadow hanging over Federal funding for the third section of its Westside Purple Line Extension. A spokesman said: “Currently, Metro assumes substantial Federal funding in its financial plan. A lack of Federal funds at current levels would potentially impact Metro’s ability to deliver some projects in the Measure M transportation strategy. Metro will continue to evaluate the budget proposal to understand its potential fiscal impact on our agency.”

“Metro has full funding grant agreements for the Regional Connector, Purple Line Extension Section 1 and Purple Line Extension Section 2," he added "and Metro is actively seeking and will continue to advocate for Federal support for Purple Line Extension Section 3 funding.”

Seattle Sound Transit, which is dependent on Federal funding of US$1.7 billion to deliver the voter-approved third wave of its long-term transit program (ST3), has been especially critical of the Trump transit cuts. Although none of its proposed future program of transit projects includes underground construction, Sound Transit has historically benefited from US$500 million in Federal New Starts funding to the US$2.4 billion budget to deliver the 22.5km-long Central Link LRT, which included construction of the Beacon Hill tunnels, and US$813 million towards the US$1.9 billion cost of delivering the 5km underground University Link.

Westside Purple Line Extension Section 3

The 14.5km all-underground Westside Extension of the Purple Line in Los Angeles is well under way with construction in full swing on the 6.25km-long Phase I section between Wilshere/Western and Wilshere/La Cienega in Beverly Hills (Fig 5). Following protests by rival bidders, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) confirmed award of design-build construction of the twin-running tunnels and three underground stations to the Skanska/Traylor/Shea JV in November 2014, with groundbreaking taking place later that month. The $2.8 billion construction budget includes $1.25 billion in full funding grant agreement (FFGA) from the Federal Transit Administration New Starts program and the first phase extension is scheduled to enter service in 2023.

Fig 5. Westside Purple Line Extension
Fig 5. Westside Purple Line Extension

Design-build construction of the Phase II 4.2km-long underground section between Wilshere La Cienega and Century City, including construction of two new underground stations, was awarded to the Tutor Perini/O&G JV earlier this year (February 2017). The $2.4 billion budget for delivery of the second phase includes $1.19 billion in Federal New Starts funding, plus a further $307 million in Federal loans, both of which were confirmed in December last year (2016) amid suggestions that forward-thinking Metro managers had rushed to secure the project’s FFGA in anticipation of impending cuts to public transit allocations as the Trump Administration began to take charge of Federal budgets.

US Transport Secretary Anthony Foxx signs the Purple Line Phase II FFGA
US Transport Secretary Anthony Foxx signs the Purple Line Phase II FFGA

LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl joked at the time FFGA status was awarded: “We are going to cash the check really fast”. In practice the funding is drawn down over a number of years.

Engineering design for the 4km-long third section of the Purple Line Extension between Century City and Westwood and its two new underground stations, is expected to begin shortly and had been on track to receive its FFGA in April next year (2018) ahead of a planned construction start in 2019 and an in-service due date of 2025.


The mostly elevated Lynnwood Link, which will extend northwards the University Link and the currently in construction Northgate Link, requires US$1.17 billion in Federal funding.

“It is distressing that the new Administration seeks to slash funding for the very type of infrastructure investments the President has consistently supported,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. “People in the region just voted for US$54 billion to help fund mass transit under the assumption that we would continue receiving Federal support. Now we are being told that sensible transit projects are not a priority. We will work hard with our Congressional delegation to ensure transit remains a top priority for Federal transportation funding.”

In its most recent report regarding the state of US public infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), rated public transit infrastructure a D-minus. “This is the lowest infrastructure grade of the ten critical infrastructure sectors surveyed by the ASCE and shows a further degradation from the previous report,” said Acting President and CEO Richard White of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which lobbies in support of public transit programs,

Following announcement of the cuts to public transit spending, White said: “APTA is disappointed that at the same time the Trump Administration is proposing to invest US$1 trillion in infrastructure, the White House is recommending cutting billions from existing transportation and public transit infrastructure programs for fiscal year 2018. The Federal Government currently covers about 43% of all capital spending for public transit and any cuts will add to the significant shortfall that already exists.”

“According to a 2016 APTA poll, three out of four Americans support increased public transportation investment, including Trump supporters," he added. "A November election poll found that 81% of Americans who voted for Donald Trump oppose any cuts to the current levels of public transportation investment.”


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