According to the Center for Transit Excellence, voters across the country yesterday considered 18 ballot measures to support transit. Results of these votes are still pending, but historically, voters have overwhelmingly approved funding to increase transit service, particularly when the funding is linked to a specific project. Regardless of whether voters approve the measures, their inclusion on the ballots has important consequences for the tri-state region.
Of the 18 measures, a dozen are in southern or western states (some are the same ballot measure considered by several counties). Several of the measures ask voters to approve tax increases or bonding to support transit expansion projects. These projects will likely seek funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program to match the state and local spending approved by voters.
The New Starts program provides federal funds for the creation or expansion of “guideway” transit systems (such as metro, bus rapid transit, light rail, and commuter rail). To be eligible for New Starts funding, projects must demonstrate the ability to raise enough state and local funds to cover at least 20% of the project cost–but the competitiveness of the program means that most projects approved for New Starts funding are funded with at least a 50-50 split.
The success of transit funding ballot initiatives will only expand the already large pool of applicants for the exceedingly popular program.
In the tri-state region, only one transit-related measure made it to the ballot; voters in Milford and Stratford soundly rejected Metro-North’s proposal to eliminate 2 stops on an afternoon train. But the region is lagging far behind its peers in asking the voters to support transit financing.
Through the New Starts program, the FTA has already committed to partially fund the LIRR East Side Access project and the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway. However, agencies in the region will be starting at a disadvantage when they seek New Starts funding for the other major regional transit projects in the pipeline.