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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Administration proposes major public transportation policy shift

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In a dramatic change from existing policy, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood proposed that new funding guidelines for major transit projects be based on livability issues such as economic development opportunities and environmental benefits, in addition to cost and time saved, which are currently the primary criteria.

In remarks at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting, the Secretary said the Obama Administration's plans to change how projects are selected to receive federal financial assistance in the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts and Small Starts programs. As part of this initiative, the FTA will immediately rescind budget restrictions issued by the Bush Administration in March of 2005 that focused primarily on how much a project shortened commute times in comparison to its cost.

"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.

"This new approach will help us do a much better job of aligning our priorities and values with our transit investments," said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. "No longer will we ignore the many benefits that accrue to our environment and our communities when we build or expand rail and bus rapid transit systems."

FTA will soon initiate a separate rulemaking process, inviting public comment on ways to appropriately measure all the benefits that result from such investments.

"APTA applauds the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for his announcement at the Transportation Research Board's annual meeting that DOT is making important and much needed changes to the New Starts project selection process," said American Public Transportation Association President William Millar. "This new policy will rescind budget restrictions issued by the previous administration that focused primarily on ‘cost effectiveness' (i.e., how much a project shortened commute times in comparison to cost) and now recognizes the wide-range of benefits that public transportation provides. 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 for, 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," he sai

"This policy change is a tremendous step forward as we look to create more livable communities in the United States," Millar noted. "We are very pleased the Administration recognizes local public transit systems, which provide over 10 billion trips per year, as an integral part of the solution in reducing our carbon emissions while encouraging local economic development. We look forward to working with the Administration on this new policy direction."