Study: Nearly $120M in transit earmarks unspent

Posted on July 1, 2010

Nearly $120 million in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) earmarks that were introduced and approved by Congress have sat untouched in FTA accounts for years and have now lapsed, according to a new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group, a Washington, D.C.-based, non-partisan, nonprofit that focuses on making government transparent and accountable.


According to documents Sunlight obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), local recipients never spent $119.2 million set aside by Congress through more than 150 earmarks in 2006 and 2007 that should have funded public transit projects in several communities across the U.S.


These funds were allocated under The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for User (SAFETEA-LU) and should have been spent by Sept. 30, 2009 at the latest. Along with its analysis, the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group also released a spreadsheet that details which projects were never completed and how much earmarked funds should have been spent.


In a companion piece, Sunlight also described the difficulty its researchers encountered when trying to obtain data from the FTA. At first, the government released printouts of a database, and once only sent the first tab of a multi-tabbed spreadsheet, underscoring the need for electronic disclosure. After multiple FOIA requests and clarifications, Sunlight was finally able to get the information it needed. The information Sunlight released on June 22 is not publicly available elsewhere.


"Members of Congress disclose when they request or fund earmarks, but there is no mechanism for following through to see how or even if that money is spent. This begs the question: What happens to the funds for what we’re describing as ‘disappearmarks’?” said Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation. “We need better disclosure — and that means online and in real-time — to see how federal funds are being spent from the time a lawmaker allocates them to when the project they fund is implemented."


According to Sunlight, the top ten lapsed earmarks are:


1. $19.6 million for a proposed New Starts light rail system by the Triangle Transit Authority in North Carolina that which expired in 2008.


2. Nearly $10 million to assist in constructing Renaissance Square in Rochester, N.Y., that would have included a performing arts center, a college satellite campus and a bus terminal. The project was canceled in 2009.


3. $4.9 million for a proposed commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit that expired in 2008.


4. $4 million for a Trans-Hudson Midtown Corridor Study for New Jersey Transit.


5. $3.9 million Detroit Center City Loop.


6. $3.9 million for the Schuylkill Valley Metro, a proposed railway that would have linked Philadelphia with Reading, Pa., that expired in 2008.


7. $3.4 million for the Rhode Island Integrated Commuter Rail Project.


8. $2.8 million for an extension of the Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to Montclair.


9. $2.8 million for a downtown transit center in Indianapolis.


10. Nearly $2.5 million for a public bus transfer and parking facility at the Billings Clinic in Montana.


Read the full report at



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