House COVID bill includes over $100 million for controversial Silicon Valley underground subway project
The House version of the coronavirus stimulus bill contains more than $100 million for a Silicon Valley subway project for which planning has been underway for several years but has yet to kick off.
Funding for the project, phase two of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) expansion, was incorporated into the House Transportation Committee section of the bill under a funding provision for “all projects falling under Article 3005 (b) of Public Law 114-94 that received allocations for fiscal years 2019 and 2020” with the exception of “projects open to the revenue department”.
But there is only one such project that fits that definition — the BART Phase 2 expansion, documents reviewed by Fox Business reveal.
According to the distribution formula for this section of the bill, documents reviewed by Fox Business indicate that the BART project would get approximately $112 million.
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The BART Phase 2 expansion would use one of the largest drill rigs ever built to bore a railroad tunnel under San Jose, Calif., according to The Mercury News. The newspaper reported that the project has seen its cost estimates repeatedly rise and has caused outrage among local Bay Area officials over the disproportionate amount of local sales tax funds going to the project. There are also fears that the ambitious nature of the tunnel will increase the risk of problems and the chances that the project will go over budget or experience major delays.
It “sucks all the air out of the room for 10 years,” Saratoga Mayor Howard Miller said of the project’s effect on tax dollars to maintain roads and ease traffic, according to The MercuryNews.
The cost of the project was estimated at $4.69 billion in 2018. But estimates have already skyrocketed to $6.9 billion. It is currently expected to be completed around 2030.
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“An earmarking to help defray the cost of Big Tech’s subway construction costs has nothing to do with fighting COVID-19,” said Senate Banking Committee Republican spokesman Steve Kelly. about the money for the BART project. The Senate Banking Committee has jurisdiction over transit projects in the Senate.
He added: “It doesn’t help a person get the vaccine or build testing capacity. It’s just more evidence that congressional Democrats see the reconciliation process as a way to push their list of wishes — which includes forcing taxpayers to pay even more for an off-budget, delayed construction project in one of the country’s wealthiest regions.”
The long-planned BART expansion has drawn praise from powerful California Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Zoe Lofgren. A person familiar with the matter said Lofgren did not ask for the money for the BART project to be in the stimulus bill.
This is not the first time in recent years that the BART project has received federal funds.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) allocated $100 million for the BART expansion earlier this year, after the project secured $125 million in 2019, according to Railway Age. But the inclusion of additional funding for the project in the Biden administration-backed coronavirus bill raises questions about the urgency of what Democrats say is a top priority.
In addition, President Biden’s appointee for deputy administrator of the FTA, Nuria Fernandez, was formerly chief executive and CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) prior to his appointment last month. The VTA is the organization in charge of building the BART extension, which BART is expected to operate after the project is completed years from now.
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An FTA spokesperson told Fox Business that the FTA is not commenting on legislation that is still in Congress and said Fernandez was recused from matters involving the VTA.
There are also more than 25 other transportation projects underway that would receive a combined total of $1 billion from the same funding pot in the coronavirus bill. One is the addition of the Maryland Purple Line to the Washington, D.C. area metro rail system, an initiative spearheaded by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
But all of those other programs fall under a separate clause in the bill: “All projects with existing full-funding grant agreements.” And the BART project – the only project that falls under its specific line in the bill – receives one of the largest sums of money.
Hogan, in an interview with Fox News this week, accused Democrats of “loading the stimulus bill” like a Christmas tree with all sorts of extras that have nothing to do with the pandemic, like the $15 minimum wage and support for special interest groups.”
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The coronavirus package will likely go to the House Rules Committee in the middle of next week and go to a floor vote at the end of the week.
The plan would then have to go through the Senate, which is divided equally by party. This means that if all Republicans oppose the bill, Democrats cannot lose a single vote. And the bill’s provisions are expected to go beyond the “Byrd Rule,” which governs what is allowed in a bill passed as part of budget reconciliation.
If the coronavirus bill makes it to the Senate, there will likely be changes. That means a House vote would be expected later this month or early March, which would send the stimulus to President Biden’s office.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.