FTA Opens the Door For More Transit Expansions to Receive Federal Funding

One of the most important federal transit programs has undergone a makeover, and transit advocates are cheering the results.

Seattle's Sound Transit light rail was funded in part by the New Starts program Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/t4america/5415978003/##T4America##

The Federal Transit Administration late last month released new evaluation criteria for transit projects vying for funds from the New Starts and Small Starts programs. These two programs dispensed a total of $2 billion last year, providing roughly half the funding for transit expansions in the U.S.

Previously, the FTA relied heavily on “travel time savings” to judge the merits of a project. The new formula will focus instead on the number of passengers expected to be served. Economic benefits like the impact on development will also be considered.

The new criteria also employ broader measures of the environmental benefits of transit. Instead of using the EPA’s air quality formula as the sole measure of a project’s environmental benefits, the new evaluation process will also incorporate the expected effects on public health (including traffic fatality rates) and energy use.

Advocates say the new rules will streamline the approval process and open the door to federal funding for a wider variety of transit projects.

“This is big news — leading to more fundable projects, with higher community benefits, approved faster at lower cost, for the benefit of an expanded network of qualified applicants,” said David Burwell, director of the energy and climate program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This guidance is a heads up to communities to sharpen their pencils and get to work on their project proposals.”

U.S. DOT also estimates the new application process will save about $500,000 annually in administrative costs. The new rules are the result of a executive order issued by President Obama in January 2011 that called for streamlining federal agencies; they were not required by the new federal transportation law, MAP-21, which preserved the programs, but did not change the requirements.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express, and the Future of Privately Run Transit

|
Virginia Railway Express (VRE), the commuter network that links northwest Virginia to Washington D.C., today refused a challenge by Amtrak to its decision to switch operating providers to the U.S. arm of Keolis, a private French transit company. Chicago’s earliest rail transit line, pictured here, was run by a private company. (Photo: Franzosenbusch Project) Although […]

Will Old Transit Systems Eat Up All the New Starts Grants?

|
One of MAP-21’s many mixed blessings was the New Starts Core Capacity program. It expanded eligibility for New Starts grants — normally reserved as capital assistance for new transit lines — to existing corridors. To qualify, the system just had to show that the improvements would expand the capacity of the line by at least […]

GOP Appropriations Bill Would Turn TIGER Into a Roads Program

|
As the president’s transportation proposal fades from the news cycle and we eagerly await the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s six-year reauthorization bill, here comes the House Republicans’ proposed budget for transportation and housing for next year. Note: What the House GOP released yesterday wasn’t an authorization bill but an appropriations bill for 2015. […]