Feds Announce Winners of $293 Million in Transit Grants

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FTA chief Peter Rogoff announced the winners of $293 million in competitive grants for bus and streetcar projects today. The biggest chunks of funding will help build streetcar projects in Cincinnati, Charlotte, Fort Worth, and St. Louis, as well as rapid bus corridors in New York and Chicago. All told, the funding will be distributed among 53 projects, chosen from more than 300 applicants.

cincy_streetcar.jpgImage: Cincinnati Enquirer

While streetcar projects got the largest individual grants, most of the funding will go toward bus projects, including a number of grants for smaller cities to build, expand, or improve stations like Des Moines’s Multi-Modal Transit Hub. Several bus projects have an information component, promising to make service more predictable and convenient by giving riders a clear sense of when buses will arrive.

Also on the list is Boston’s regional bike-share network, slated to receive $3 million to help build more than 500 public bicycle stations. The bike-share project made the cut because of its potential to expand the reach and accessibility of the bus and rail system. Boston’s bike-share launch recently got pushed back to 2011, but at that scale, it would be, by far, the largest system in the country.

Here’s a sample of the major projects that got a boost:

  • Cincinnati will receive $25 million to help build a six-mile streetcar route, with an eye toward spurring mixed-use development downtown. The city planning commission recently took the enlightened step of reducing parking requirements along the future streetcar route.
  • Chicago received support for a pair of rapid bus projects: $11 million for the Jeffery BRT corridor, which will improve service to major job center on a route with poor access to trains, and $25 million for a two-mile, east-west bus priority street serving several routes downtown.
  • New York City’s 34th Street busway got an $18 million grant. Streetsblog NYC readers have been following this project for a couple of years. NYCDOT recently announced its intention to make 34th Street the first physically separated busway in the city.
  • One of the surprise winners was Fort Worth, which received about $25 million for a 2.5-mile one-way streetcar loop, intended to serve as the hub in a future network. Streetsblog Network member Fort Worthology called the grant "incredible and extremely positive news" for the larger streetcar project.

You can see the complete list of projects here.

The funds are being distributed through two competitive grant programs that LaHood unveiled last December. The "Urban Circulator" and "Bus and Bus Livability" programs are tied to the Obama administration’s multi-agency livability initiative. The funding streams are separate from DOT’s larger competitive grant program, known as TIGER.

In an announcement this morning, LaHood indirectly tied the transit grants to the ongoing catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. "This investment by the Obama Administration in our nation’s communities will create jobs, boost economic development and recovery, and further reduce our dependence on oil," he said in a statement. Note: He said "oil," plain and simple. Not "foreign oil."

Advocates for reforming national transportation policy applauded the grant program, noting that demand for funding far outstripped supply. "As the grants show, communities across the country are clamoring to use transportation investments to boost their economy while making their communities better places to live and work," said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. "FTA did a great job in rounding up this money to put wheels on President Obama’s livability initiative, but we think that more communities should be able to benefit from these sorts of programs. DOT needs to have more money for smart, accountable, competitive programs like this in the future."

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