While these projects were eligible for funding under the New Starts and Small Starts program, in each instance they were advanced outside of the New Starts and Small Starts program. Moreover, not a single streetcar project was recommended for funding in FY 2011 from the New Starts or Small Starts program nor were any streetcar projects included in the Annual Report to Congress. Thus, to build on the success of the TIGER and Urban Circulator programs will require reform of the New Starts and Small Starts program in order to access a more sustainable source of funding.
Interim Program Changes for New Starts and Small Starts
Until Congress adopts a surface transportation authorization bill, the FTA follows current law in proposing any changes to the New Starts/Small Starts programs. Thus, FTA must continue to rely on the existing project review criteria and the project evaluation process for each program. In an effort to begin the dialogue toward making changes to the manner in which the criteria are measured for New Starts and Small Starts projects, the FTA published the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on June 3, 2010 seeking comments. FTA is currently reviewing the more than 2,000 comments submitted prior to August 3, 2010, but has indicated that it is seeking to publish the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in Spring 2011.
Specifically, FTA sought outside input in the following areas:
- Cost Effectiveness
- The current measure evaluates the direct mobility benefits (any measurable change in travel times, walking, biking, transfer, and other attributes) of the proposed project compared to a “baseline” alternative expressed in travel time savings for the user of the system. The FTA recognizes that the current measure has limitations and sought comment on whether the “baseline” or some other alternative should be the basis for comparison. Further, the FTA sought input on what other benefits should be included in the evaluation and how can these benefits can be captured and quantified.
- Environmental Benefits
- For several years the FTA has used an air quality approach based on a regional forecast of the changes in vehicle miles traveled for the proposed project compared to the “baseline” alternative. This measure is limited due to the minor effect a single project has on total regional air quality and the fact that the measure doesn’t take into account the severity of the metropolitan area’s air quality problems or the size of the population exposed to polluted air. The FTA convened several meetings and participated in studies to measure the environmental impacts of transit project in an effort to solicit perspectives of various industry experts. They sought input in several areas on whether there a better measure of environmental benefits, if that measure should consider both the natural and human environment, and/or whether it should address air quality emissions, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, or water quality.
- Economic Development Benefits
- The current measure rates the economic development effects of major transit projects on the basis of transit supportive plans and policies in place and the demonstrated performance of those plans and policies. In 2007, the FTA convened an expert panel to consider methodologies to measure economic development impacts. The FTA also published a discussion paper in January 2009 which served as the basis for the issues on which FTA sought comment. FTA sought input on whether the new measure should be a quantitative or qualitative measure, whether or not the project could generate “new” economic development or simply reallocated development that otherwise would occur in a region, if the measure should consider changes in land use values as evidence of potential economic growth in a station area or project corridor.
The Community Streetcar Coalition (CSC) submitted comments that sought to respond to the issues raised by the FTA. The comments were very extensive to review, but there are key points that the CSC urge the FTA to consider. The CSC encouraged the FTA to incorporate the livability and sustainability criteria issued by Obama Administration in June 2009 that seek to promote additional transportation choices, promote equitable and affordable housing, enhance economic competitiveness, support existing communities, value communities and neighborhoods and encourage coordination of policies across several agencies and leverage those investments.