APTA | Passenger Transport Express
February 20, 2009

News Headlines

Economic Recovery Law Sends Funds to Public Transit, High Speed Rail

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law by President Obama on February 17 provides $8.4 billion for investments in public transportation projects and $9.3 billion for intercity passenger rail, including $8 billion for high speed rail corridors and $1.3 billion for Amtrak. Of the $8.4 billion provided for public transit, $6.9 billion will be distributed to public transit systems through sections 5307, 5311, and 5340 of the Federal Transit Administration’s formula programs and a new $100 million program for energy consumption and greenhouse gas reduction grants. The remaining $1.5 billion will be equally distributed as grants for the New Starts/Small Starts and Fixed Guideway Modernization programs.

In addition, the new law includes $1.5 billion for a new, intermodal discretionary program that can be used for public transportation, highways, bridges, freight rail, and ports. Separately, an additional $150 million for rail and transit security grants is provided to help make public transportation systems more secure.

Also, the Transit Commuter Benefit Program limit has been raised to equal that of the parking benefit. (See article below.)

"With public transportation ridership at modern record levels and local and state transit ballot initiatives resoundingly approved by voters, the American people have demonstrated that they want more public transit services," APTA President William W. Millar said in a statement. "Congress is listening to the public, and this legislation is responding to the public will," he said.

Cap Raised on Pre-Tax Public Transit Benefit

The only aspect of the new economic-recovery law to take effect immediately is the raising of the cap for pre-tax transit benefits from $120 per month to $230 — the same amount that car commuters have been allowed for pre-tax parking costs. This change accounts for $192 million of the recovery package and will expire on January 1, 2011, unless extended by the Congress.

APTA/FTA Webinar: How to Apply for Stimulus Funds

More than 700 public transportation professionals learned details of the application process for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act from Federal Transit Administration representatives during a February 13 webinar, sponsored by APTA and FTA. Susan Borinsky, FTA assistant administrator for planning and environment, and Susan Schruth, FTA assistant administrator for program management, said a new web site, www.recovery.gov, will ensure transparency in the funding process by showing how ARRA funds are being used.

The speakers emphasized that 50 percent of funds in the bill — including $8.4 billion for public transit — must be obligated within 180 days of the Feb. 17 bill signing.

Transit systems should be taking steps now to identify projects to be funded with stimulus money so that when the FTA apportionment notice and program guidance are published shortly, grant applications can be filed quickly. Both the APTA web site and the FTA web site carry further information. A podcast of the audio and PowerPoint slides from the webinar are available via the APTA web site.

FTA Withdraws Two Controversial NPRMs

The FTA announced it has withdrawn two notices of proposed rulemaking that had raised concerns among APTA members.

The first withdrawn NPRM notes that on June 6, 2008, an amendment to SAFETEA-LU required FTA to "give comparable, but not necessarily equal, numerical weight" to each project justification criterion for New Starts and Small Starts. However, "the revisions to the statute require such a fundamental change in how FTA weighs the several project justification criteria that a new approach to rulemaking for the New Starts and Small Starts program is required," the agency explained in its statement.

The second NPRM covers the measure of contractor performance in developing ridership forecasts and cost estimates for New Starts. "Upon reflection, FTA has determined that a separate rulemaking is not necessary in order to implement incentives to contractors for accurate ridership and cost estimates. FTA will work with project sponsors case-by-case to provide incentives to contractors for accurate ridership and cost estimates as appropriate, and may, at some point in the future, include incentives in a New Starts rulemaking, or issue a policy statement or guidance document to provide guidelines on incentives."

Save the Date

There is still time for policymakers, transit operators, manufacturers, suppliers, government relations staff, and local coalition members to sign up to attend APTA's 2009 Legislative Conference, March 8-10 in Washington, DC. This year's conference will give participants a unique opportunity to discuss funding requests for Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations to their Congressional representatives.

In the Media

The New York Times web site includes a comparison chart on recipients of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Transport Politic blog featured an article and chart on the funding shortfalls faced by public transit systems across the nation.

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