Why Recovery Aid Is Getting to Roads Faster Than Transit

As we reported yesterday, MAP-21 went into effect just in time for Hurricane Sandy, allowing the Federal Transit Administration similar emergency grant-making authority as FHWA. But Adam Snider at Politico reminded us this morning that the change is easier said than done.

New York's MTA can get donations from other transit agencies, but the FTA's power to release emergency grants is hindered by Congressional budgeting processes. Photo: r/sandy @Imgur

While U.S. DOT released $13 million yesterday to New York and Rhode Island for road repairs, the agency says FTA experts will join FEMA to assess damages and “help direct transit agencies to available federal assistance programs.” Staff and equipment will also be donated by transit agencies that weren’t affected by the storm. But those emergency grants that FTA has the newly-minted power to make? Not coming yet.

Politico’s Snider explains why:

MAP-21 created a new “public transportation emergency relief program” that would let FTA make grants for operations, repairs, equipment and more after a natural disaster. But the [continuing resolution] passed by Congress in September extended funds from the previous DOT appropriations bill — which didn’t include the FTA emergency program because it didn’t exist yet. The bottom line: FTA can’t make emergency grants to the affected agencies along the East Coast, though several transit experts expected FEMA to help out (“…but that’s a long process,” one source wrote). Congress could always address the issue in a Sandy-related emergency appropriations package when members return in mid-November.

Mid-November is a long way away for cities and transit agencies struggling to restore mobility in the immediate aftermath of the storm. What good is emergency grant-making authority if you can’t use it in the event of an emergency?