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May 11, 2009

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Transit Agencies Make Plans to Implement ARRA Funds

Passenger Transport continues to report on how public transportation systems—working with business members—are spending funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). These stories examine the variety of ARRA-funded projects that will both help stimulate the economy through job creation and enhance public transportation in communities across the country.

Several transit agencies described how receiving support through ARRA will allow them to use their existing funds more efficiently.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC) in Reno, NV, is putting $3.7 million of its ARRA funds toward construction of its 4th Street Station. By using the stimulus funding to help cover the $13 million cost of this project, RTC will free up federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds that can now go toward a proposed Bus Rapid Transit demonstration project, according to Felicia Archer, public information officer.

RTC broke ground in early April for the new station project, located on a 2.5-acre site. Construction of 4th Street Station is expected to generate as many as 200 jobs, Archer said: local companies will work to build the station and benefit other businesses, big and small, that those companies use. She also credited the slow economy with the fact that construction bids for the project came in $7 million below predictions.

The new facility, equipped with 25 bus bays and retail space, will replace the existing RTC CitiCenter, which does not have sufficient space to accommodate current bus service or future growth. Its construction is part of downtown revitalization efforts; the new facility is a neighbor to the recently opened Reno Aces Triple A baseball stadium.

Modesto Area Express (MAX) in Modesto, CA, is also leveraging its ARRA funds so it can use its regular Section 5307 funds for other purposes. Fred Cavanah, transit manager for the city of Modesto, explained that, without the $5.5 million from ARRA, MAX would have to eliminate 10 percent of its service hours.  “Our plan,” Cavanah said, “is to use the ARRA money for the same purposes that Section 5307 money can be used—for capital costs. The bulk, 90 percent of the ARRA funds, will cover capital maintenance for both our equipment and our facilities. That allows us to use our regular 5307 money for vehicle purchases.”

Cavanah also noted that the ARRA funds do not require a match, unlike the Section 5307 funds. MAX will match these federal funds with state money through California Proposition 1B, which can only be used for capital purposes. Regarding the ARRA funds, he said: “The absence of the match requirement will save us $800,000 in local funds that we will insert into our operating budget where we would otherwise be short of funds.”

The Lawrence Transit System in Lawrence, KS, plans to invest in new bus technologies with the $2 million it will receive under ARRA.  “We formed a staff task force to look at alternative fuels and how to incorporate those technologies, and we are recommending that we proceed with biodiesel and hybrid vehicles,” said Casey Toomay, interim transit administrator. She noted that the ARRA funds could pay for four of the new vehicles, but that number could rise to six with the addition of formula funding and a local match.

In Phoenix, METRO light rail received a $36 million advance in New Starts funding during a visit by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. A provision in ARRA allows for New Starts recipients to obtain next year’s installment ahead of time as a way to speed up projects.

“Our total New Starts grant was for $587 million; it was awarded to our project in 2004 and comes in several installments, generally about $90 million each,” said METRO spokesperson Hillary Foose. “We are expecting two more installments to complete the grant; this stimulus award is an advancement of these expected funds.”  Foose explained that the $36 million will be divided and reimbursed back to the project cities—Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa—which will determine where to direct the funding.

In Memphis, TN, the Memphis Area Transit Authority has announced that it plans to spend $13 million of its $17.8 million in ARRA funds for 35 replacement buses. Seven of the vehicles will have hybrid-electric engines; 26 will operate on fixed routes, the rest for paratransit.

The remaining $4.8 million will help to fund components of the authority’s Advanced Public Transportation Technology Initiative: an Automatic Vehicle Location system; radio system replacement; Automatic Voice (Stop) Announcement system; Automatic Passenger Counters; automatic vehicle health monitoring; and on-board security cameras.

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