The Arizona Republic is reporting that the Federal Transit Administration will announce today that the City of Mesa may receive $38 Million in Obama money to extend Phoenix’s light rail system an additional three miles into Mesa. The money would include construction of four stations.
From the Republic:
That’s important because the approximately $200 million line needs to cross major hurdles before workers can start laying track.
First, the FTA needs to grant approval to proceed with construction.
Also, the president’s budget is only a request. Congress has the authority to spend money, and House Republicans reacted negatively after the budget was released, saying it didn’t go nearly enough in cutting spending and easing the national debt.
Obama’s budget points out there is no money in 2012 for the federal program that pays for new rail lines. Instead, the money for Mesa’s light-rail line can only come if a delayed federal transportation bill is passed, or if a continuation of spending from last year is extended beyond October. The continuation expires March 4.
The House GOP plan for a spending extension calls for cutting the federal rail grants from $2 billion to $1.57 billion. The Mesa project would draw from such funds.
“There’s a big hole in the budget; where does the money come from?” said Eric Anderson, transportation director at the Maricopa Association of Governments, adding that he’s pessimistic the administration and the House can reach agreement.
He called Mesa’s inclusion in the budget “a good sign,” adding, “You’d rather be in than not, but it’s not a guarantee Congress will fund you.”
The request comes at a time when US Congressman, Jeff Flake has just announced a bid for the US Senate in which a major part of his platform consists of his opposition to earmarks and pork projects. And given that he now sits on the House Committee on Appropriations, he will have the power to make life and death decisions over federal spending.
Strangely enough, the current length of Mesa’s light rail lies in Congressional District 5 which is now held by David Schweikert. Spending the additional $38 Million would further that extension into Jeff Flake’s district. Schweikert would likely oppose the expenditure.
Should Flake oppose the proposed expenditure extending light rail deeper into Mesa, he may find himself at political odds with City of Mesa leadership including Mayor Scott Smith and members of the Council.
The question remains. Will Congressman Flake continue his opposition to spending taxpayer money on local projects that have proven to be budget boondoggles? Or, will Senate candidate Jeff Flake place political expediency over principle by supporting Mesa’s political leadership in their desire for federal dollars to extend light rail into downtown Mesa?