Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood talked Wednesday about the Obama administration efforts on the New Starts transit grant program, the transportation bill, and transportation funding in the next jobs bill being discussed in Congress. A number of the key elements have been discussed in detail by Elana Schor at Streetsblog:
The first move: LaHood’s DOT will rescind a 2005 rule that elevated “cost-effectiveness” above all other criteria used to determine whether a local transit project can receive federal funds. Cost remains a factor in the “New Starts” process, but is no longer given more weight than factors such as congestion relief.
The second of the Obama administration’s moves: Environmental and economic benefits will become official factors in evaluation ‘New Starts’ proposals. This change requires a rulemaking by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which typically includes a period of public comment, so will not take effect immediately.
In announcing this latter shift, LaHood and FTA chief Peter Rogoff emphasized the need to look at the community-building benefits of transit.
LaHood addressed the ongoing impasse over a new federal bill during his remarks today on the transit rules change, calling fresh six-year legislation a ‘critical pice of the puzzle.’
‘I recognize there’s a lot of capacity and demand for additional transportation investments across the country that neither the stimulus nor a new jobs bill can provide,’ he said. ‘We need to empower regional and local transportation authorities to invest in the kinds of projects that will spur economic growth, enhance livability, and preserve the qualities that make each area special.’
On the next jobs bill:
The administration wants a jobs bill to augment the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary grant program, LaHood said.
The so-called TIGER program was launched as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act with a meager $1.5 billion, which was only enough to fund a fraction of the applications state and local governments submitted to the Department of Transportation.
On the importance of shifting more funding to the TIGER program, Streetsblog’s Elana Schor explains:
The House opted not to bolster TIGER funding in the $154 billion jobs bill that it passed last month, which included $75 billion in total infrastructure money that would be distributed through existing, and oft-criticized, transport formulas. . .
The choice to begin transitioning toward a more merit-based funding system by distributing money between the competitive TIGER program and the existing transportation formulas is now up to the Senate, which could release its jobs bill as soon as next week. A final vote, however, isn’t expected until next month at the earliest. . .
Also in the federal policy news from Streetsblog Capitol Hill, EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy talks about reducing vehicle miles traveled and transportation policy – EPA Air Chief: We Need to Do More to Reduce VMT.