House COVID bill includes over $100 million for controversial Silicon Valley underground rail project

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The House version of the coronavirus stimulus bill contains more than $100 million for an underground rail project in Silicon Valley for which planning has been going on for several years but hasn't yet broken ground.

The funding for the project, phase two of the Bay Area Transit Authority (BART) expansion, was tucked into the House Transportation Committee's section of the bill under a funding provision for "all projects under section 3005(b) of Public Law 114-94 that received allocations for fiscal year 2019 and 2020" except "projects open for revenue service."

But there is only one such project that fits that definition – the BART phase 2 extension, documents reviewed by Fox Business reveal.

Under the distribution formula of that section of the bill, documents reviewed by Fox Business indicate that the BART project would get approximately $112 million.

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The BART phase 2 extension would use one of the largest boring machines ever built to drill a tunnel for rail transit underneath San Jose, Calif., according to The Mercury News. The paper has reported that the project has seen its cost estimates increase repeatedly and has caused outrage among local Bay area officials over the disproportionate amount of local sales tax funds that are going to the project. There are also worries that the ambitious nature of the tunnel increases the risk of problems and the chances the project could go further over budget or see major delays.

It "sucks all the air out of the room for 10 years," Saratoga Mayor Howard Miller said of the project's effect on tax funds meant to maintain roads, and ease traffic, according to The Mercury News.

The project was estimated to cost $4.69 billion in 2018. But estimates have already skyrocketed to $6.9 billion. It's currently scheduled to be complete in approximately 2030.

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"An earmark to help cover the cost of Big Tech’s subway construction costs has nothing to do with combatting COVID-19," Steve Kelly, a spokesperson for the Senate Banking Committee, said of the money for the BART project. The Senate Banking Committee has jurisdiction over mass transit projects in the Senate.

He added: "It doesn’t help one person get the vaccine or boost testing capabilities. This is just further proof that congressional Democrats view the reconciliation process as a means to push through their wish list – which includes forcing taxpayers to pay even more for an over budget and delayed construction project in one of the wealthiest regions in the country."

The long-planned extension of BART has gained praise from powerful California Democrat lawmakers, including Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

This is not the first time in recent years the BART project has received federal funds.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) allocated $100 million to the BART extension earlier this year, after the project got $125 million in 2019, according to Railway Age. But the inclusion of further funding for the project in the coronavirus bill backed by the Biden administration raises questions about the urgency of what Democrats say is a must-pass priority.

Further, President Biden's appointee to be the deputy administrator of the FTA, Nuria Fernandez, was previously the general manager and CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) before her appointment last month. The VTA is the organization that is in charge of the building of the BART extension, which BART is slated to operate once the project is complete years from now.

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An FTA spokesperson told Fox Business that the FTA doesn't comment on legislation that is still in Congress and said Fernandez is recused from issues that involve the VTA.

There are also more than 25 other in-progress transportation projects that would receive a combined total of $1 billion from the same pot of funding in the coronavirus bill. One of them is the Maryland Purple Line addition to the Washington, D.C.-area metro rail system, an initiative spearheaded by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

But all of those other programs fall under a separate clause in the bill: "All projects with existing full funding grant agreements." And the BART project — the only project that falls under its specific line in the bill — is getting one of the largest chunks of money.

Hogan in an interview with Fox News this week accused Democrats of "loading" the stimulus bill "up like a Christmas tree with all kinds of extras that have nothing to do with the pandemic, like $15 minimum wage and taking care of special interest groups."

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The coronavirus package will likely go to the House Rules Committee in the middle of next week and be up for a floor vote at the end of the week.

The plan would then have to make it through the Senate, which is split evenly along party lines. That means, if all Republicans oppose the bill, Democrats cannot lose a single vote. And the bill's provisions would have to make it past the "Byrd Rule," which governors what elements are allowed in a bill passed under budget reconciliation.

If the coronavirus bill makes it through the Senate, there will likely be alterations. That means a vote in the House would be teed up for later this month or early March which would send the stimulus to President Biden's desk.

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report. 

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