Monies from the congressional and presidential approval of a $104 billion transportation funding bill late last year already are putting long-planned transit projects — and local economies — on the fast track.
“Already, we’re seeing funding trickle down to where it’s most needed and, overall, a more efficient, streamlined project approval process — two things the bill promised,” said Thomas J. Spearing III, president of Hill International Inc.’s project management group.
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), inked by President Barack Obama last summer, took effect in October. It provides a total of $104.4 billion for rail, bus and highway projects over the next two fiscal years. Of that, an estimated $80 billion was earmarked for highway projects, more than $21 billion for transit projects and $2.5 billion for highway safety projects.
MAP-21 is important for surface transportation projects across the country and ends the pattern of almost three years of short-term extensions to surface transportation’s last authorization law, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). Although significantly shorter than most program authorization legislation, MAP-21 is the first long-term authorizationenacted since 2005 and contains several program innovations and measures to speed program delivery.
“It makes [getting projects started] a lot easier and a lot more efficient,” said Brigid Hynes-Cherin, Region III administrator of the U.S. Federal Transit Administration at a recent conference on the measure and its implications.
Specifically, MAP-21 consolidates the highway program structure into a smaller number of broader core programs. It eliminates many of the discretionary programs, and introduces performance measures and establishes national performance goals for safety, infrastructure condition, congestion reduction, system reliability, and freight movement, among others.
The changes for the transit program also are significant. MAP-21 consolidates several of the Federal Transit Administration’s smaller programs, and restructures the rail modernization and bus discretionary program to create a new State of Good Repair Program. It also streamlines the approvals and reviews required for new fixed-guideway projects (the New Starts program), and creates eligibility for “Core Capacity” projects to be funded by these discretionary funds as well.
“Many of the programs still exist, but they will be more flexible and easier to use,” Hynes-Cherin said.
Susan Schruth, executive consultant at Hill International and former associate administrator at the U.S. Federal Transit Administration agreed that MAP-21 could soon allow work to speed ahead on existing and planned transit projects, including the Anaheim Rapid Connection (ARC) project in Anaheim, Calif. The 3.5-mile, high-capacity system will connect residents, workers and visitors to the busy city’s intermodal transportation center, the Anaheim Convention Center, where they can access Metrolink, Amtrak, bus rapid transit, local bus and future high-speed train services. The Anaheim Rapid Connection also will link the city’s major destinations and attractions, including the Anaheim Convention Center, the Platinum Triangle mixed-use area of the city, as well as two national sports arenas and the Anaheim Resort, which includes Disneyland and other entertainment and leisure attractions.