The federal case for transit is:
Transit is good for urban development. It’s a civil rights issue in US regions.
We are committed to it the same way we are committed to schools and natural areas.
The end. No blather about how cities are more important than everybody else, or big environmental promises made for trains that will be half full for the next 15 years (where we still might want the investment, but are fooling nobody on the environmental benefits.)
Here’s how you set it up to stop driving the anti-federalist Republicans crazy:
a) Move the FTA over to housing and urban development. Where, you know, urban development is, and where you might be able assemble big joint development projects via b, next:
b) Reassemble it as an transit-focused TIFIA (revolving loan) type program or infrastructure banking program (remember how much Obama wanted one of those) that provides federal guarantees for bond issues on proposals from states and regions alike, paid off with some percentage of the state’s own-source federal gas tax revenues and/or any other state/local/regional revenues committed to the bonds.
c) Whatever percentage of federal funding had been going into the Highway Trust Fund via dedicated transit funds, move that back to the states–revenue neutral. The ones that want it for their own highway projects, fine. The ones that want to use that to commit to paying off guaranteed transit bonds via b can do that.
d) Require that joint development proposals have their local approvals done before one dollar of loan goes forward.
Unlike with capital grants awards programs, where you are rewarded for persistence, competitive proposals for loan programs have their own due diligence attached, which increases accountability. Cost over-runs are penalized. Tying new money to the approvals process will get places to knock it off with making developers miserable.
Think about that. I’m not in favor of transit being lumped in with other projects in infrastructure banks, but set up like this means federal transit support can get stretched way, way past what is dribbled out of capital grants programs or programs tied to gas tax receipts.