February 16, 2009
FTA: Prepare Now for Federal Grant Funds
Regardless of the final outcome of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, two facts are clear: There will be stimulus money for public transportation, and there will be an imperative to move quickly: Award money quickly, hire people quickly, implement projects quickly.
To help transit agencies and other stakeholders prepare in advance, the Federal Transit Administration has posted detailed information on its web site.
Historically, transit agencies work through three sequential steps in their federal funding applications: planning, procurement, and internal processing. Because of the urgency behind this stimulus funding – and the intent to require grantees to begin work within the first 90 days of award – those historical, traditional approaches can no longer apply.
Instead, APTA and the FTA are urging agencies to “Get Ready NOW,” which means working on all three steps – planning, procurement, and board processing – simultaneously, in parallel, and immediately.
Need for Concurrent Preparatory Actions
For the planning effort, an agency should work through its Metropolitan Planning Organization (or through states where there is no MPO) to have its project placed on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). Concurrently, procurement officers should begin lining up sources, issuing procurement bid documents subject to the availability of funds.
At the same time, policy boards should begin their internal processing. Each board should provide direction to staff, dispensing pre-approval to the extent it can, as far ahead of time as possible, and it should plan to be ready to move as soon as the money is available. That means that boards must begin developing their processes concurrently with their planners and procurement personnel about what will be required to move a project forward. Since each board is uniquely local, with its own set of parameters and rules, it is recommended that boards be prepared to call an emergency meeting should the agency receive an award well before the next meeting is scheduled.
Environmental requirements that apply to projects – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 4f of the Department of Transportation Act, among others – must be met. But with the focus on speed, however, it is unlikely that any agency could obtain a Record of Decision in a timely fashion. So agencies should consider prioritizing projects that have completed or nearly completed NEPA or that qualify as categorical exclusions. To the extent that other environmental requirements apply and have not been satisfied, prospective grantees should consult with managers of affected resources at the earliest opportunity.
FTA—Working on Your Behalf
FTA is committed to updating the industry on how best to respond successfully to the stimulus infrastructure monies that will become available. The question-and-answer section of its web site includes its interpretations of the various provisions of the pending bills, and will be monitored to ensure that it provides information based on the most current version of the legislation.