January 18, 2010
Employment positions in this issue's classifieds include an Executive Director; an Executive Director, Operations; and a Chief Operations Officer!
LaHood Announces Adoption of Long-Sought ‘New Starts’ Criteria
By JOHN R. BELL, Program Manager-Communications
In a dramatic policy shift, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Jan. 13 announced that DOT will amend its New Starts and Small Starts grant requirements to rescind the stipulation that projects attain a cost-effectiveness rating of medium in order to get funding.
“We are going to free our flagship transit capital program from long-standing requirements that have allowed us only to greenlight projects that meet very narrow cost and performance criteria,” LaHood said to an audience of more than 1,000 people at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) in Washington. “Instead, as we evaluate transit projects going forward, we will consider all the factors that help communities reduce the carbon footprint, spur economic activity, and relieve congestion,” he said to sustained applause.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter issued the same day, LaHood noted that to be recommended for funding, a project must still attain a “medium” rating for the overall project. “These include not only mobility-oriented benefits such as transit travel time, but also important economic development, environmental, social, and congestion relief benefits,” LaHood explained in the letter.
The decision reverses a 2005 “Dear Colleague” letter that limited New Starts funding recommendations to projects that achieved a medium or higher cost-effectiveness rating.
“This new approach will help us do a much better job aligning our priorities and values with our investments in transit projects that really strengthen communities,” LaHood explained. “We’ll finally be able to make the case for investing in popular streetcar projects and other transit systems that people want and that our old ways of doing business did not value enough.”
He emphasized: “Folks, this is a big deal. This is a huge reform at the Department of Transportation. Change has come to DOT!”
APTA President William Millar heralded this announcement, saying: “We are very pleased that the DOT will now give consideration to the multiple benefits of new transit projects such as economic development, environmental impact, and land use improvements. This is a change that APTA has long championed, and it will allow for a more efficient approval process, so projects can move forward more quickly.
“As a part of our recommendations to Congress and the administration, APTA advocated that the Federal Transit Administration must consider transit supportive land use and economic development in a way that simplifies the New Starts rating process,” Millar said.
“This policy change is a tremendous step forward as we work to create more livable communities in the United States. As we look to implement a variety of transit projects to meet Americans’ many needs, we look forward to working with the administration on this new policy direction.”
LaHood also discussed the need for a forthcoming jobs bill to include transportation projects, including public transit.
“The final bill should reflect a robust investment in highways, transit, marine highways, aviation, and rail—including Amtrak,” he said. “We know these investments will produce good-paying jobs and great projects for Americans. This is the right direction at the right time, and it’s what American taxpayers are asking for.”
LaHood lamented the fact that DOT has received more grant applications than it can fund. “We received many, many more applications for our three discretionary stimulus grant programs than we could ever possibly fund,” he said. “And that includes our high-speed rail program, our discretionary TIGER grants, and our transit energy grants.”
He emphasized that such nontraditional federal funding sources are “important not only because they create good jobs that help the environment, but also because they fund projects that are nearly impossible to do through traditional ways or programs that we have at DOT .... We’re sitting on high-quality applications worth billions of dollars submitted through our TIGER grant program that could be announced right away if we had the funds .... So we hope Congress sees the 2010 jobs bill as an economic opportunity to unlock many more good transportation projects that are ready to go with more TIGER funding.”
LaHood noted that his travels over the past year have shown him the breadth and urgency of the demand for more public transit and other projects. “Everywhere I go, the message is loud and clear: People want more and better transportation infrastructure in their communities, from highways and bridges to light rail, multimodal transit stations, bike paths, and walking paths,” he said. “They want the opportunity to leave their cars behind, to live near work and schools and good hospitals and enjoy clean, green neighborhoods. Our stimulus funds are helping many communities begin to realize these dreams, and we’re pleased to see that Congress is also taking action.”
LaHood also discussed the $8 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants for high-speed rail in the U.S. “High-speed passenger rail is coming to America, and it is long overdue. This is a tremendously exciting opportunity,” he said. “President Obama’s dream, Vice President Biden’s dream, is to have good passenger rail service all over America.”
He noted that more than 30 rail manufacturers and suppliers have pledged to expand their operations in the United States if chosen by the states to build the new system. “And I’ll make sure those investments in manufacturing help our most distressed communities in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. Creating good manufacturing jobs in this country while modernizing transportation at the same time goes to the heart of what livability is all about and reflects the principles this country was built on.”
LaHood acknowledged that neither ARRA nor a jobs bill can completely fill the need for more transportation investment: “We need a comprehensive, forward-looking authorization program. ... President Obama wants a robust, comprehensive transportation bill that meets the needs of America. The problem is, that bill costs between $400 and $500 billion. And we want to work with Congress, the president wants to work with Congress to get an authorization bill that meets the needs, and we need to find the money to pay for it. And so for all the criticism of the delay, the president is committed to a strong transportation program for America. And we will get there. I believe we will get there this year.”
The TRB Annual Meeting attracts more than 10,000 transportation professionals from around the world over the course of four days.