Monday, May 08, 2006

Doing the right thing

...can get Uncle Sam pissed at you--even if it doesn't cost him a penny. The i-dotting and t-crossing beancounters at the FTA stand ever ready to kill much-needed transit projects over a technicality.

Tysons Tunnel Could Risk U.S. Funds

In the debate over whether to build a Metro extension to Dulles International Airport below or above ground in Tysons Corner, tunnel supporters have voiced a recurring argument: Even if a tunnel costs a couple of hundred million dollars more, it would be worth it in the long run. A region as wealthy as Northern Virginia, they say, should be able to find the extra money to "do the project right."

Standing in the way, however, is a nagging reality that has been somewhat overlooked in the debate: In spending more than planned on the project, even if the money is raised locally, officials risk losing the backing of the federal government, which is being counted on for almost a quarter of the project's $4 billion cost.

That's because the Federal Transit Administration has strict rules on a project's "cost-effectiveness" that are based on overall cost, not on how much the federal government is being asked to pay. Critics say the policy discourages cities and states from investing what they believe is necessary for a project's success, but federal officials say the standard is needed to keep projects from becoming boondoggles, which reduces public support for transit.
Of course, highway boondoggles (viz."the Big Dig") are A-OK.

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