Earlier this week, the Federal Transit Administration proposed significant changes in the way America's major transit projects compete for federal funds. This revamped approach will speed up the New Starts process and focus more on transit options that fit local needs.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama asked government agencies to streamline bureaucracy wherever possible, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. The changes we've proposed would move more job-generating bus, rail, and ferry projects from the drawing boards into construction sooner and with less red tape along the way. And when we save time, we also save the federal government and local taxpayers money on interest, up-front costs, and other expenses.
As FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said, “We’re aiming to make common-sense changes that will make a big difference to communities that need more mobility and better access to jobs sooner rather than later.”
We're also proposing to make it easier for communities to win approval of projects that better reflect their local vision. Let's face it: with major transit projects, one size does not fit all. It makes little sense to force an individual community's project to fit a rigid and outdated set of criteria determined by a federal agency a thousand miles away.
For example, project proposals would no longer be required to calculate the travel time that would be saved by comparing their proposed project with a hypothetical alternative project that the community has rejected. Applicants would instead calculate how many commuters will benefit from the project the community wants to build. This gives local communities a much stronger voice in their own affairs.
After all, if a project no one wants saves a typical rider 19 minutes, and the locally preferred project saves that rider 17 minutes but also uses cleaner technology, anticipates greater ridership, and will create more opportunities for economic development in the community, it just makes more sense to select the locally preferred alternative.
Under the existing rules, that outcome would be less than certain.
But rest assured, our rigorous scrutiny of potential projects will continue. The FTA's New Starts Program has been one of the federal government’s most effective discretionary capital investment programs. And that's one thing that won't change.