Transportation mostly survives DC budget cuts

Budget cuts stock photo from larry1235/Shutterstock.

DC will continue most of its existing transportation efforts next year under a draft budget released by DC mayor Muriel Bowser. However, unless the DC Council changes the budget, the District will have somewhat less funding for affordable housing programs and won’t plan ahead to ensure well-coordinated development in areas slated for big growth and change.

The overall picture is not as gloomy as feared

The current fiscal year, FY 2020, runs from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020. Bowser presented budget revisions which reduce agency spending by $189 million and shift $214 million to federal funds from the CARES act and other sources. Some agencies’ spending increases by a total of $57 million for pandemic-related costs, while $37 million goes into the cash reserve.

Image from the mayor's budget slideshow.

Even so, the proposed budget for FY 2021, which begins in October 2020, reflects an increase in revenues over 2020 -- $426 million more revenue than 2020, out of over $9.2 billion in total local revenues. But this is a massive drop from the estimates the CFO had released before the coronavirus hit.

The biggest spending change is in education, where this budget includes a 3% increase in per-pupil funding, which adds $77 million to DC Public Schools and $36 million to charter schools. There are also a number of facilities changes.

Transportation escapes the axe

Staffing at the District Department of Transportation is basically unchanged, with a few scattered positions removed that are just unfilled open positions. There is no big cut to staffing, as some feared.

Bus priority: On capital projects, there is a new “master project,” Bus Priority and Efficiency Initiative, for projects including the now-permanent H and I bus lanes, forthcoming 16th Street and 14th Street bus lanes, and others.

This project has almost $18 million over six years; 16th Street itself will cost about $10 million to build, so this doesn’t allow for a lot more projects like that, but DDOT may be able to get significant mileage (physically and metaphorically) out of installing lanes in ways that require less construction, like H and I were or 14th is planned to be (plus, those can happen faster).

K Street transitway: One very large-scale construction-oriented bus priority project is the K Street Transitway, an approximately $122 million project to rebuild K Street NW with a pair of bus-only lanes in the center, protected bikeways, and general traffic lanes on the edges.

Image by DDOT.

The council last year pushed off K Street funding to later years, finishing in 2024 in last year’s budget. The mayor’s submission accelerates it to finish in 2023.

Other projects specifically listed in e budget, in "master project" categories like "Safety & Mobility" or "Streetscapes & Mitigation" include Alabama Avenue SE safety improvements, the "Penn West" project to add trees and bike lanes and more along Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House; East Capitol Street, Southern Avenue, Florida Avenue NE, and more.

It's difficult to easily tell which categories in the capital budget have less funding than last year, since the budget doesn't directly juxtapose how much last year's plan showed to be spent in 2021 versus this year's plan, or how the expected spending for, say, 2024 compares between last year and this year. This article will be updated with more information if we find out further notable changes.

The budget will now go to the DC Council, which will have a very abbreviated set of hearings. Unlike in normal times, anyone can’t sign up to testify before the committee chair; only the agency heads will. Some committees are allowing various ways of formally submitting video testimony; people can always email councilmembers with written comments.