The CSC expressed its appreciation on the return to the use of “multiple measure approach” that reduces the emphasis on cost effectiveness and returns to a reliance on all of the project measure as was the case in the Clinton Administration and consistent with the changes made in the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act. Further, the use of the current measure for cost effectiveness is a barrier to streetcar projects in that it measures a singular benefit (e.g. focuses on the commute trip, as opposed to capturing broader benefits such as those represented by the Obama Administration’s livability and sustainability criteria). Moreover, streetcars are about trips not measured by travel demand models employed in most communities since a streetcar provides greater accessibility to transit; it reduces the length and number of auto trips, and the enhanced economic development and housing in the project corridor result in more walking trips.
The CSC supports the elimination of the “baseline” alternative. The baseline alternative is not based on a project that is funded or being considered within a community. It is a planning exercise that is not based on the transportation objectives of a community. Instead, the CSC urges reliance on the “no build” alternative since it compares the proposed project to current conditions in a project corridor.
The CSC believes that FTA’s starting point for measuring economic development is faulty since it presumes that there is a limit to capital investment in a region and assumes that development occurring adjacent to transit is development that would have happened elsewhere in a region. This fails to account for the fact that the development is likely to be of a different character in terms of intensity of development and returns greater benefit to a community where it results in the redevelopment of a brownfields area versus a greenfields area that is separated from where current housing or employment opportunities exist. Further, CSC believes that these benefits should be measured regionally rather than in a specific corridor since that is the scale at which most benefits are measured and realized.
Surface Transportation Authorization Bill
The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) was adopted by Congress in August 2005 and expired September 30, 2009. There were several extensions to SAFETEA-LU as Congress struggled to identify long-term and sustainable funding for surface transportation program. Consequently, Congress relied on infusions of funding from the General Fund (GF) to sustain the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and Mass Transit Account (MTA). The GF funds enabled the HTF to sustain current investment levels until the end of 2102. The Obama Administration has indicated that it will introduce its proposal for the surface transportation authorization bill with the introduction of the FY 2012 Budget in February 2011. In light of the HTF being exhausted by the end of 2012, it is incumbent on the 112th Congress to act.
The gasoline tax has not been increased since 1993 which has eroded its buying power and constrained federal investment in surface transportation. Congress has been able to avoid the enactment of any increase in the gasoline tax but this has required the use of the GF, which moves the program away from a “user fee” concept. The proverbial “day of reckoning” is upon the program as the Obama Administration and Congress must reduce the scope of the federal surface transportation, rely on private sector investment and/or shift the funding burden on state and local taxpayers. The CSC urges the Obama Administration and Congress to recognize the importance of a robust federal investment as surface transportation investments of all kinds are crucial to economic development and promoting interstate commerce whether it takes the form of moving goods or getting people to their jobs.
There has been much discussion of streamlining the New Starts project evaluation and approval process to resemble the Small Starts program. The CSC supports these efforts. Further, the CSC supports the use of a “Program of Interrelated Projects” that rewards non-federal investments in project segments and allows those investments to serve as match for projects funded from the New starts and/or Small Starts program. The CSC also supports utilizing Project Development Agreements to set forth the actions necessary to advance the project and the use of a “warrants-based” approach that assigns points to both primary and secondary measures for each of the criteria.
Jeffrey F. Boothe is a partner with Holland & Knight, LLP.