San Diego transit cashes in on return of congressional earmarks
San Diego public transit projects won nearly $14 million in funding thanks to the return of congressional earmarks after the practice was banned for over a decade.
Overall, Congress approved more than $9 billion in funding for nearly 5,000 projects in the $1.5 trillion appropriations bill signed by President Joe Biden last month. Earmarks are when members of Congress secure funding for something in their district as part of a larger spending bill.
Among the local earmarks: $10 million to help stabilize the Del Mar bluffs and plan for moving the COASTER tracks inland; $1 million to study an alternative route for the COASTER; $2 million to move the trolley at Palomar Street in Chula Vista underground or to elevated tracks; and $750,000 to support zero-emission bus infrastructure for MTS.
The city of San Diego also received $2.4 million in earmarks for four projects. UCSD received $950,000 for a telehealth initiative, while the San Diego Community College District received $975,000 to upgrade and modernize its IT system.
The county's transportation planning agency, SANDAG, got the lion's share of local funding. SANDAG deputy CEO Coleen Clementson said the earmarks represented a fraction of the projects' total costs.
"Hopefully, we'll have some local funds, (and) we'll be looking for state funds as well on all these projects," Clementson said. "But this is like a down payment on what needs to be done here."
Earmarks are often criticized as government waste, favoring pet projects of the most influential members of Congress. Supporters say they encourage bipartisan collaboration and can deliver funding to important projects faster.
Clementson said SANDAG got a decent amount of federal grant funding, but congressional earmarks were simpler to secure.
"We still use rigor in coming up with the cost estimates," she said. "But sort of the process for receiving the funds is much more streamlined."
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the amount of the federal appropriations bill signed by President Joe Biden.