OGDEN — A proposed transit connector in Ogden could be among the casualties of President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget, depending on action the U.S. Congress takes in the coming months.
The 62-page document released last week, titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” underscores Trump’s desire to beef up national defense with an additional $54 billion in funds slashed from other areas of the budget, among them the Department of Transportation.
Trump’s so-called “skinny budget” would limit federal funding for the New Starts capital investment program to projects with fully funded grant agreements already in place.
“Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” the president’s proposed budget states.
A public transportation project in Ogden that would rely on funds from New Starts is the Bus Rapid Transit line. BRT would cover a 5.3 mile route that connects Ogden’s intermodal transit center at 2350 Wall Ave. to Weber State University, the Dee Events Center and McKay Dee Hospital by way of 25th Street and Harrison Boulevard.
New Starts had been identified as the potential source of half of the $60 million needed to design and construct the project. The other half would need to come from state and local sources.
In 2015, Utah Transit Authority Project Manager Hal Johnson considered the Ogden City Council’s approval of the long-debated route and transit mode as a “hunting license to go seek funds.” But project design had to come first, and UTA spokesperson Remi Barron said by email Monday that the agency is not yet at the point in the process to apply for federal construction funds.
According to Barron, $5 million in design funding is still being lined up. So far, the Weber Area Council of Governments pitched in $2.5 million, UTA $1 million and another $1.5 million has been requested from the Wasatch Front Regional Council.
WFRC executive director Andrew Gruber called the project an important priority in Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan.
“We have a competitive application process for our available funding and this project is currently being evaluated through that process,” Gruber said. “We do think this project would be highly competitive for federal New Starts funding because of projected ridership and benefits to the community and regional economy.”
UTA’s Johnson isn’t ready to give up on New Starts — or some other pocket of federal funding — to help the project materialize.
“The proposed president's budget could have some potential impacts on discretionary funding programs,” Johnson said by email. “However, it should be noted that the president's budget is the starting point for development of the 2018 budget, Congress sets the national budget and not the president.”
Previous administrations have also proposed cuts to transit programs, “and they have always survived,” Johnson added. “However, there is a lot of work ahead for the transit industry to justify the critical importance of continued federal investments.”
Johnson pointed out that the Trump administration also made mention of a potential infrastructure program, but no details have been released to that effect.
“So the potential impacts on the Ogden project are not known yet,” Johnson said. But he praised New Starts as being one of the more effective federal programs because of the way it leverages local funding.
“And it creates a ton of jobs, with redevelopment going into the corridors. It has a lot of benefits,” Johnson said.
Mark Johnson, chief administrative officer for Ogden City, said that depending on implementation, the president’s budget could cause significant delays.
“And at the end of the day, we need to figure out how to fund our side of the match,” Mark Johnson said. “We’d really like to see it happen, but we can only move as fast as the funding does.”