Bay Area transit officials lauded President Joe Biden’s signing this week of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, calling it the most transformative infrastructure investment in a generation.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Biden signed Monday at the White House, will allocate $47.2 billion to California to support repairs and improvements to roads, bridges, ports and electrical and water systems.

An additional $9.5 billion will go toward modernizing public transit in the state and $600 million will help prepare the state’s transportation systems for extreme weather like droughts and wildfires.

“The infrastructure bill is a once-in-a-generation investment in things that matter to our riders: reliability, frequency and accessibility.”

Bob Powers, BART general manager

Transit projects could also receive additional funding in the future, as the infrastructure package includes some $210 billion in discretionary grants that will be doled out over the next five years.

“The infrastructure bill is a once-in-a-generation investment in things that matter to our riders: reliability, frequency and accessibility,” BART General Manager Bob Powers said. “It also benefits Bay Area residents who don’t necessarily ride BART by creating the opportunity for jobs with good pay.”

An electrifying moment

Officials from Bay Area transit agencies said the funds will enable their agencies to meet a swath of goals like eliminating bus tailpipe emissions by 2040, increase the frequency of bus and train service and expand access to electric charging equipment at bus and train service yards.

Caltrain Acting Executive Director Michelle Bouchard expressed confidence in a statement that the funding will enable the transit agency to complete the electrification of its rail system by 2024 as planned.

Both BART and Caltrain stand to benefit from a multibillion dollar slice of the federal infrastructure bill, with money earmarked for electrification and other system modernization efforts. (Image courtesy of Caltrain/Facebook)

The agency announced earlier this year that it would already be required to delay its full electrification from 2022 to late 2024 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other unforeseen complications under Caltrain’s tracks and with train signal installation.

The Federal Transit Administration has estimated that Caltrain’s electrification will require an additional $333 million, of which the transit agency has reserved roughly half. All told, the electrification will cost roughly $2.3 billion once fully completed.

“Electrification will transform Caltrain, replacing 75 percent of the aging diesel fleet with high-performance state of the art electric trains, but this funding will allow us to take the next step and finish the project by 2024,” Bouchard said. “Additional federal support will help get us to a fully zero emission service and will allow the agency to realize its 2040 Service Vision goal of running eight trains per hour in each direction, which would carry the equivalent of five-and-a-half lanes of freeway traffic.”

Signing bonus

Several Bay Area officials attended the signing ceremony, including San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, and executives from the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

A bipartisan group of legislators passed the funding package through the House and Senate last week.

In the next two weeks, Democrats in Congress are expected to consider a second spending bill focusing on social programs and priorities like paid leave, health care and child care access, mental health support and universal preschool.

“This infrastructure package, the two bills put together, is a significant investment in infrastructure and will improve lives and bring costs for families down,” Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, said during a briefing in San Jose last week. “You’re going to see more subsidies and assistance when it comes to childcare, education, health care access.”

Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority Managing Director Rob Padgette said it is “hard to overstate” how important the physical infrastructure package will be to the U.S. passenger rail industry.

“Historically, we have relied almost entirely on funds from the State of California to invest in passenger rail improvements,” Padgette said. “With IIJA, we can now partner with the federal government to dramatically enhance our service.”