The U.S. House Appropriations Committee Thursday voted to back $9 million in funding to help build the East County extension of the San Diego Trolley. The panel also directed a federal agency to clear an administrative logjam that has been holding up millions of more dollars earmarked for the project.
The $9 million is part of a $27-billion transportation bill that, if passed by the full House and Senate, will bring the congressionally allocated funding for the project to $20.3 million.
So far, San Diego area transit officials say it will cost about $83 million to build the extension, which will extend to El Cajon and is scheduled for completion in 1988. According to a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transit Development Board, a total of $60 million has already been secured for the project.
In addition to the $9 million, the committee directed the Urban Mass Transit Administration to review a critical environmental impact report, which is needed before any federal funds can be spent on the project. The report has yet to be processed by UMTA, prompting local transit officials and three San Diego County Republican congressmen, Bill Lowery, Duncan Hunter and Ron Packard, to accuse the agency of an intentional delay.
UMTA's lack of action has already frozen $11.3 million that is available for the project, said Tina Kreisher, a spokeswoman for Lowery. A total of $40 million in federal money is sought to finance the eastern link, she said.
Randy Brobert, a legislative assistant to Appropriations Committee member Lowery, said the language of the amendment, in effect, directs the UMTA to "stop stalling."
The amendment directive does not have the force of law, but Broberg said Lowery is hopeful that the report language will send a strong message to UMTA. Kreisher quoted Lowery as saying that "this is about the strongest thing that Congress can do at this point."
UMTA has not reviewed the impact statement because the Reagan Administration opposes funding for new transit projects, according to Lowery staff members. The extension is considered a new project by the federal government because federal monies were not used to build the existing line, which runs from downtown to the international border, said staff members.
Metropolitan Transit Development Board spokeswoman Judy Leitner said the board is happy and "optimistic" about the House committee's actions, although the $9 million approved by the committee must clear further government hurdles before it reaches San Diego.
There are indications, however, that the $9 million will be scaled down. The entire transportation bill is 11% higher than what the committee knows will be approved, and committee members will suggest their own cuts before the measure reaches the full House, said Broberg.
"We are asking for a mere pittance compared to other proposals. They might say let's leave this little project alone," Broberg said. If the committee suggests an 11% across-the-board cut, however, the $9 million for the San Diego Trolley could be cut by $990,000.
Other cities awarded money in the bill include Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Calif., Atlanta, Houston, St. Louis, Seattle and Miami.