Administration fulfills goals on rural access to air, train service
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to support "the continuation of the Small Community Air Service Development Program that helps small and mid-sized communities attract new air service, ... improve the effectiveness of these programs and increase the availability of rail transportation options for residents of rural communities."
On Oct. 25, 2010, the Transportation Department selected 19 communities in 19 states to receive $7 million in grants under the Small Community Air Service Development Program. Of that amount, $6 million was included in the Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act for fiscal year 2010, with the remainder funded through reallocations from other department funds.
The communities receiving the grants are: Dothan, Ala.; Yuma, Ariz.; Gainesville, Fla.; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Ft. Wayne, Ind.; Sioux City, Iowa; Manhattan, Kan.; Bangor, Maine; Lansing, Mich.; Kearney, Neb.; Keene, N.H.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Kinston, N.C.; Eugene, Ore.; Provo, Utah; Charlottesville, Va.; Mosinee, Wis; and Parkersburg, W.Va. An additional grant was made to the Missouri Department of Transportation for three communities -- Columbia, Joplin and Waynesville.
As for the rail portion of the promise, the Transportation Department has awarded Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (or TIGER) grants that would assist rural rail projects. TIGER grants, which were created by the economic stimulus bill, are designed to boost "multimodal" projects -- those that involve more than one type of transportation -- with a preference for those located in economically distressed areas.
The Normal Multimodal Transportation Center in Normal, Ill., received $47.4 million in TIGER funding. The center offers links to rail, intercity bus, local transit, cars, shuttles, taxis and bicycle and pedestrian paths. Other TIGER projects include Waterloo Station Improvements in Waterloo, Ind., the Lexington Multimodal Transportation Station in Lexington, N.C., and the Moline Multimodal Station in Moline, Ill.
The Transportation Department has carried out both the air and rail parts of this promise. We rate it a Promise Kept.
More money in Obama's proposed budget for rural airports
The proposed 2010 budget released by the Obama administration in February calls for a $55 million increase over 2009 spending for air service in small communities.
According to the budget proposal, "the administration is committed to maintaining small communities" access to the National Airspace System." The additional funding is needed to fulfill current demand for subsidized commercial air service increases, the budget plan states.
There's a big caveat, though.
"The program that delivers this subsidy is not efficiently designed," the budget says. "Through the budget process, the administration intends to work with the Congress to develop a more sustainable program model that will fulfill its commitment while enhancing convenience for travelers and improving cost effectiveness."
According to a spokesman in the Department of Transportation, since Obama took office, the DOT has issued new Essential Air Service contracts for 10 small communities, valued in excess of $10 million per year.
The administration's budget proposal is just that; and it is still very early in the budget process. But so far, Obama has stayed true to his word to support airline service in small towns. And that's enough to move this to In the Works.
Office of Budget and Management, Budget Documents for Fiscal Year 2010 , Feb. 26, 2009