MAP-21 Jump-Starts Capital Projects

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.

Program Consolidation

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.

“So many of the changes are focused on ease of funding and reliability of funding,” Schruth said. “The big thing for grantees is to get the money they need to move forward.”

long-term commitment needed

Peter Javsicas, executive director of PenTrans, a coalition of public agencies and private firms working to improve transportation throughout Pennsylvania, views MAP-21 a bit more conservatively. “On the plus side, the bill includes retention of New Starts funding, expanded borrowing options and moves toward more local control and decision-making. These measures could be features of a renewed federal commitment to transportation spending,” Javsicas said. “However, without requiring increased transportation revenues, the bill shows little federal commitment to transportation spending in general — and represents substantial steps backward in terms of structural repair and transit funding.

“In general, MAP-21 is inadequate,” Javsicas added. “The U.S. needs a comprehensive, long-range, multi-modal transportation policy properly coordinated with other national goals and objectives to provide a framework for making decisions about transportation investments.”

Joseph Casey, general manager of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), remains optimistic about MAP-21, but agrees the United States must commit to long-term transportation funding that goes well beyond MAP-21’s two years. SEPTA is the nation’s fifth largest transportation operation.

“Considering the budget climate in Washington, MAP-21 can only be considered a success for transportation. What is critical from a transit operator’s perspective is a long-term federal transportation funding bill in order to properly plan and budget capital projects,” Casey said. “Although a two-year reauthorization bill, MAP-21 allowed SEPTA to enter into several contracts to rebuild our transit system. The new emphasis on state of good repair is especially important for “older” systems such as SEPTA, [which are] typically in the major economic centers of the country.”

Schruth said that any upswing in transit projects could provide both large, multi-disciplinary firms and smaller, niche consultants with new opportunities.

“To do a New Starts project, you need a range of expertise — engineers, administrators, environmental experts, public outreach and public information experts, financial experts, contracts and claims experts. Most (transit) agencies don’t have that breadth of expertise in-house. For example, there are 24 areas of compliance that grantees must pass, and only a few of the grantees nationwide have the staff to be able to handle all of those areas,” Schruth said.

MAP-21 doesn’t just provide great business opportunities, Spearing said. The legislation will go a long way in helping to meet a growing public demand for alternatives to the automobile and the gas pump.

“Riding transit makes good economic sense, and also is a safer alternative to any other mode of transportation. The business of transit results in $4 in economic return for every dollar invested and helps green the planet at same time.”

Spearing knows first-hand the benefits of safe, reliable means of transportation. He grew up “almost literally underneath the Frankford Elevated,” SEPTA’s elevated line that connects northern Philadelphia with Center City.

“We had a family of four that went to work, or to school, or got around the city every single day by using public transportation. It was a way of life. Bringing back that way of life and, at the same time, bringing public transportation into the 21st century will have very specific and lasting benefits for generations to come.”

 

Tricia M. McCunney is a technical writer with Hill International Inc.

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