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New Starts -- FTA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
On January 25, 2012, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to reform the New Starts program. The proposals generally have two impacts: (1) to streamline the review process, reducing the analytical and paperwork burden for sponsor agencies, and (2) to include a broader set of evaluation criteria, particularly those that better capture social equity and environmental considerations. According to these proposals, the core mission of the New Starts program would not shift away from new projects or extensions. The following reforms include:
- Project sponsors would no longer be required to use local travel forecasts to obtain data necessary for FTA evaluation. Rather, sponsors could choose to use FTA's simplified national models.
- Project sponsors would no longer be required to develop baseline alternative scenarios. The evaluation criteria would shift away from incremental measures toward whole-unit measures.
- The proposed rules would allow the expanded use of "warrants," a process by which a project can qualify for automatic rating if it meets certain FTA-defined parameters. In other words, if a project meets certain threshold criteria, it receives an automatic rating with no further analysis required.
- Projects would only be re-rated in response to material changes to scope or cost as they proceed through the development process.
Additionally, the NPRM would reform the evaluation criteria used to review applicants to the New Starts program. The following table compares the proposed reforms to current practice, organized across five categories of evaluation criteria.
|Current Approach||NPRM Approach|
|Cost effectiveness|| |
Incremental annualized capital and operating costs per incremental hour of transportation user benefits compared to baseline. (FTA allows projects to adjust both value of time upwards by 20 percent to account for congestion benefits and by 100 percent to account for non-mobility benefits.)
|Annualized capital and operating costs per trip. ("Betterments," i.e., improvements that are not essential to project's basic mobility function would not be counted as project costs. Expanded use of warrants.)|
|Economic development||Review local plans and policies to determine support for/potential of transit oriented development (TOD).||Review local plans and policies to determine support for/potential of TOD. Also, examination of affordable housing policies in corridor to determine impact of project on affordable housing. (May also require sponsors to estimate number of jobs created, although this data would not be used for evaluation. Would allow sponsors to develop scenarios to incorporate environmental and economic benefits.)|
|Environmental benefits||U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality designation for metropolitan area.||Changes in vehicle emissions, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, accidents and fatalities, public health. (These estimates would be done via simple spreadsheet calculations using standard FTA factors.)|
|Mobility improvements||Number of transit trips using project, user benefits per passenger-mile, number of trips by transit dependents, transit dependent benefits per passenger-mile, percent of benefits going to transit dependents compared to overall percentage of transit dependents in region.||Total transit trips on project with extra weight given to transit dependents.|
|Operating efficiencies||Incremental difference in system-wide operating costs per passenger-mile between proposal and baseline.||Change in operating and maintenance costs per "place-mile" compared to existing transit in current year.|
GO TO 2040 calls on the federal government to reform the New Starts program for transit. The current New Starts program creates a strong incentive to pursue expansion projects, when maintenance and modernization should be the region's top priority. As such, the plan supports expanding the criteria for the program to include reinvestment in existing infrastructure. Further, FTA regulations concerning the use of funds for Phase I engineering of transit projects are stricter than those governing highway projects and should be changed to level the playing field between the two modes.
Although CMAP supports the efforts to streamline the regulatory review and include a broader set of environmental and social justice criteria into the evaluation process, the FTA's proposals do not address the GO TO 2040 recommendations. They do not liberalize the New Starts program to include maintenance and modernization projects along with extensions or greenfield facilities, nor do they address the funding of Phase I engineering work. As described this Policy Update, the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee's recently released Federal Public Transportation Act of 2012, which would reform the New Starts program in closer alignment with the GO TO 2040 recommendations by defining reinvestment projects as eligible for funding. The Act's position on the use federal funding for Phase I engineering projects is not yet clear from the details available. In all, the Federal Public Transportation Act of 2012 appears to move closer to the recommendations outlined GO TO 2040 than the FTA's recent NPRM.