Currently viewing the tag: "FTA"

This week, the US DOT released the FY11 Budget, a $79 Billion package best summarized by three key agency priorities: improving transportation safety, investing for the future, and promoting livable communities (this last point is significant, we’ll come back to it in a minute). $10.8 billion (7.3%) of the budget is dedicated to transit projects alone. Some cities, particularly Denver, Honolulu, Hartford, San Francisco, and St. Paul-Minneapolis came out as the big winners with new full funding grant agreements, a pivotal step in the FTA’s New Starts funding process.

While this is all great news - if you take some time to look through the budget you’ll notice our very own, Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension stuck in federal funding limbo. This September, MDT will have their final chance to prove their financial aptitude to the FTA.  As our colleagues over at Streetsblog pointed out, Miami, Boston, and Sacramento face an uphill battle over the coming year in achieving FTA approval.

Now, the important question here is: Why haven’t our local leaders figured out how the federal funding process works? While the Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension is a noble project, serving a community that could certainly use some improved transit connectivity, the ugly truth is that it won’t garner the ridership necessary to warrant a $1.3 billion investment. Perhaps our local leaders don’t have the political courage to suggest such a notion. Perhaps it would be far more convenient (politically speaking) if the project dies as a result of the FTA rather than our own missteps. While our local leaders continue to advocate for projects that will never stand a chance in the federal appropriations process, we, the constituents, are affected by the ineffective transportation alternatives available. We all suffer. Our economy suffers. The longterm economic viability and sustainability of our community suffers.

Onto the livability objectives - the USDOT, partnering with the EPA and HUD, have embarked upon an ambitious livable community initiative aimed at integrating efficient transportation with healthy, affordable housing solutions. The livable communities initiative will emphasize integrated development around public transportation and will provide greater funding to communities that enhance accessibility, particularly through non-motorized means.

Since metrorail’s inception in the mid 80’s, what have we accomplished? Most recently, the opening of the I-95 HOT lanes has allowed for expanded BRT-like service between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. However this project is partially marred by the fact that (vehicular) capacity was expanded on the corridor to begin with, leading to overall improved travel times (initially) due to the added capacity. The South Miami-Dade Busway, our only other major transportation capital improvement project, has shown some promising success. However, recent attempts at bringing HOT lanes to this corridor, in an effort to “alleviate” congestion along US-1 would prove disastrous and would certainly undermine the new federal goals of encouraging livability.

We’ll leave you with a few points for discussion before we continue this series next week. We invite our readers to use the comment section to continue this important discussion:

  • When Miami-Dade’s bid for the Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension inevitably fails later this year, what position should the county ultimately take? What alternative makes the most sense?
  • The County has admitted that it will not be unable to deliver on the promises made in the PTP - what should be done?
  • If the county proposed a new, viable alternative to the PTP with reduced service but actually achievable objectives, would you support it? What routes would be critical in such a plan?

You will remember that back in January, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the changes to the  guidelines that govern federal investments in transit. While not as comprehensive as the anticipated changes to the 2005 SAFETEA-LU Bill, the new rules were a welcomed and long overdue change to transit funding rules.

“Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it,” said Secretary LaHood.  “We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live.”

The change will apply to how the Federal Transit Administration evaluates major transit projects going forward.  In making funding decisions, the FTA will now evaluate the environmental, community and economic development benefits provided by transit projects, as well as the congestion relief benefits from such projects. (FTA)

Locally we hoped for the best, but on Monday the President released his list of projects that are moving forward with federal funding.  While other cities are big winners, our own beleaguered Orange Line Phase 2 remains a weak funding candidate. The projects are all rated based on a variety of criteria, and for a project to receive funding it needs to be at least Medium rated. Previously, the rating was based on cost effectiveness, but the new rules give other criteria greater weight. You can read the report here (look for information on Miami on page 14).

For us the changes would be great news, if not for the continued lack of political will to provide permanent sources of operation and maintenance funding.  The overall project is rated Medium-low in the Preliminary Engineering phase. We score medium-high and medium on the majority of categories, except for our Local Financing Commitment for Operations and Maintenance. In other words, the feds know we can build the system (partially using our PTP dollars) but we still do not have a permanent way of paying for the O & M that will result from the construction of the line.

Until the County Commission steps up and identifies how they intend to fund the future operations of Orange Line , we will not receive FTA New Starts funding.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem that is specific to the Orange Line or with the cost heavy rail technology. The cost of O & M is going to be a problem for whatever technology is used to expand the transit system, whether it be BRT, LRT or Metrorail. Running mass transit is expensive. Our current ‘go it alone’ attitude in pursuing BRT lite is only going to cost us more in the long term without actually increasing ridership.

We are currently in the phase “Preliminary Engineering”,

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  • The State growth management planners have officially drafted a report recommending Miami-Dade County commissioners to reject the most recent bids to move the Urban Development Boundary further west. The issue will now head back to county commissioners who will vote again based on the state’s recommendations.
  • We really did not see this going any other way, considering the state has repeatedly warned County Commissioners on the devastating consequences our area would face should the UDB be extended west. We hope that Sally Heyman stays true to her word and reverts to her original vote against the expansion and are perplexed that this issue will somehow only narrowly be defeated. When it comes to the UDB, much of the county commission does not vote in the best interest of constituents. We’ll keep you posted as to when the County will be meeting, but in the meantime e-mail your county commissioner
  • Miami-Dade County Commissioners gathered in Washington D.C. this week to meet with Federal Transit Administrator James Simpson to discuss the fate of the upcoming N/S and E/W metrorail extensions. The N/S extension was recently downgraded due to financial uncertainty within MDT. Simpson urged the county officials to work together and put an end to the racial bickering which has plagued much of the county’s projects since the 1970s.
    • We hope that the County administration comes back home with a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished in order to see these projects come to fruition. MDT and the Commission should be ashamed that these critical projects were downgraded because of poor management however, given the poor management of previous projects and ridiculous cost overruns, this really shouldn’t surprise us. Transportation options shouldn’t become the center of a cultural war, on the contrary, transit should unite our neighborhoods and make county-wide mobility easier for all.
  • The city of Coral Gables is looking into creating plan that would provide free parking to the drivers of electric vehicles. The plan is being considered after a recommendation by the city’s economic development board altered Commissioner Ralph Cabrera’s initiative to provide more downtown bicycle parking. Meanwhile, some within the city were looking to expand the initiative to provide reduced parking fees for owners of hybrid vehicles.
    • We commend Commissioner Cabrera for introducing some greener initiatives and for the city’s support in making Coral Gables a bicycle friendly community. Free parking for electric vehicles may be ahead of its time, considering that few electric vehicles are available on the market today, but the city is headed in the right direction in providing the local infrastructure to even make this technology possible. The exclusion of hybrid vehicles from this proposition is recommended by Transit Miami due to the varied nature of hybrid vehicles (20 mpg Yukon Hybrid - 50 mpg Prius.) We believe the city needs to continue in the green direction by subsidizing only virtually zero emission projects (Bicycle, EV, Trolley, Pedestrian, etc.)

    In case you’ve spent the past couple of days living in a cave (or more likely, not paying attention to local transit news) there is trouble brewing on the horizon (by horizon I clearly mean this week) over at MDT. I know we haven’t touched up on MDT in a while, but we’re long overdue for some updates.

    Last week, the FTA dealt a serious blow to the next major phase of metrorail expansion, the north corridor, by downgrading the once favorable rating of the project. The new Medium-low status doesn’t quite kill the project yet, but it places some serious funding hurdles in the way, which, if overcome, will set the project back by 6 months to a year (in MDT terms: we’re realistically looking at a 2+ year delay if funding is eventually secured.) Not all hope is lost yet on the nearly 10 mile long corridor; the FTA is choosing to downgrade the status of the project because of the “county’s long-range financial forecasting” rather than ridership projections or cost benefits of the corridor itself. The FTA seems to be in favor of the project but is rather questioning the ability and leadership of MDT.

    This information comes direct to us from The Overhead Wire, whose author was kind enough to e-mail us regarding this critical situation. Here is what’s going on with our lawmakers:

    The Federal Transit Administration(FTA) has issued a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) for the New and Small Starts program that provides funding for major fixed guide way capital projects such as Light Rail, Heavy Rail, and Bus Rapid Transit. The proposed rules are alarming on a number of levels. Most notably in that they downgrade the importance of land use and economic development despite congressional direction to the contrary, and they propose to redefine the definition of fixed-guide way to include transit funding for highway lanes that use tolling schemes.

    The fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill moving through congress is an opportunity to formally weigh in and stop or alter the proposed FTA rule. If finalized, the new rule making policy will hamper the ability to build new transit lines for the next 5 years!!!

    Why is this important? Because some of FTA’S proposed rules would entrench policy issues advocated by folks from the libertarian Reason Foundation and the O’Toole/Cox cabal. The proposed rule ignores current transportation law regarding required project justification criteria and adds new Federal intervention into the local decision making process.

    More issues With the new rules after the jump:

    1. It would allow High Occupancy Toll lanes to qualify for New Starts funding -

    This would diminish the ability of cities to get funding from an already crowded grant program. HOT Lanes qualify for funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and we all know there is a lot of funding there. Over 300 New Starts Projects(Light Rail, Heavy Rail, Commuter Rail, Bus Rapid Transit)were authorized by the SAFETEA LU transportation bill and the argument by the FTA as to why they have such an intensive scrutiny of proposals is because of the high demand for limited funding. Adding High Occupancy Toll freeway lanes to the list of eligible projects further strains the ability to fund new transit projects.

    2. It would make the dreaded cost effectiveness INDEX the primary factor in deciding the fate of funding for New Starts projects -

    This is the same measure that is killing the Tyson’s Corner Metro extension and has killed light rail plans in Columbus Ohio. Almost every city that is looking to build new transit projects is worried about this measure, and now its being made even stronger. This measure is the reason why Minneapolis‘ Central Corridor light rail project might not be able to tunnel under The University of Minn and the reason why locally backed expansion of light rail is now BRT in Houston.

    3. The rule making pushes cheap not completely dedicated guide way bus projects -

    The irony of the cost effectiveness index is that in reality, it fails to capture the full benefits and cost effectiveness of a project. The index evaluates the cost effectiveness of a light rail project versus corridor improvements such as bus rapid transit or improved local bus service. What this does is force cities to choose bus rapid transit projects over citizen -backed light rail projects that may have greater community benefits but also a higher initial price tag. Also, the measurements for the Very Small Starts program are set using the Southtown rapid bus project in Kansas City and not rail or fixed guide way BRT projects such as the Orange Line.

    4. The importance of Land Use and Economic Development measures are reduced or ignored by the FTA -

    Congress elevated land use and added economic development as project justification criteria in SAFETEA-LU. The US Department of Transportation (DOT), however, ignores this and has combined them into one measure with a combined weight of 20% in the overall rating process. The FTA states that it is too costly to implement the economic development measure but the cost and burden to grantees such as cities and transit agencies is not considered when local jurisdictions are required to adopt the FTA’s travel demand models which have many issues. The fact that they use those models to determine the Cost Effectiveness rating which decides who gets funding is a problem in itself as it can’t address all the benefits of fixed guide way transit. Furthermore, FTA argues that is too difficult to separate land use from economic development and that the increase in property values associated with proximity to transit is merely a result of improved time savings alone. I’m sure many zoning offices and developers would be surprised to have it categorized so simplistically.

    5. Could lower ratings for cities who are trying to address future rather than current congestion issues -

    The FTA would like to measure the New Starts program by the benefits to highway users but ignores the idea of induced demand which means when you build a new transit project, the space from cars that are taken off the road by transit is filled by new cars. The want for transit opponents to push money from the transit program into congestion pricing schemes and not so rapid bus projects would result in less useful transit projects in corridors that might have real future need.

    Contact Your Congressman or Senators
    -Ask them to stop the proposed rule and give the Department of Transportation a clear directive that the FTA Must:

    1. Comparably wight all 6 project justification criteria(including: Environmental Benefits, Land Use, Economic Development, Mobility Improvements, etc) recognizing the importance of transit-supportive land use and economic development to fostering successful and sustainable projects rather than just the cost of the project.
    2. Maintain the current definition of Fixed-Guide way transit
    3. STOP RAIDING THE TRANSIT PROGRAM FOR ROAD PRICING SCHEMES

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