Region’s Transit Projects Get High Marks From FTA

Last week the Federal Transit Administration gave the clearest sign yet that it plans to get behind the Access to the Region’s Core rail tunnel between New Jersey and NYC, and gave good marks to other projects in the region as well. In itsĀ annual report on the New Starts transit grant program, the agency recommends committing $200 million in federal funds for ARC in the upcoming fiscal year, gives the project an overall rating of “Medium-High” (ratings of “Medium” and above mean a project will likely receive federal funds), and writes that ARC is “likely to be ready for a Full Funding Grant Agreement” during the fiscal year.

The report notes some concern over the looming insolvency of New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund, although most of the state’s contribution to the project will now come from bonds backed by toll road revenue. In addition, Congressional action is needed before the FTA can award this agreement. The $3 billion federal share of the project would put the FTA over its authorized commitment limit and would be the largest-ever New Starts commitment.

ConnDOT’s Hartford-New Britain Busway has not always been highly rated by the FTA (see MTR # 411). But Commissioner Joseph Marie may have started to right the ship. This year the project earned an overall rating of “Medium,” putting it back in the running for a full funding grant agreement. According to the report, Connecticut plans to apply for this agreement later this year, but must address upcoming deficits in its Special Transportation Fund first.

An NYCDOT proposal to bring Select Bus Service to Nostrand Avenue between Williamsburg and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn earned a “High” rating, an indication that it is extremely likely to receive funds from the FTA’s Small Starts program. (Of the 40 New/Small Starts projects in the report, only two are rated “High” according to the stringent FTA criteria.) The FTA did not include it on the list of projects likely to receive FTA funds in FY2010, but is reserving $81 million for unidentified projects which could receive funding in the upcoming year if they “overcome project uncertainties” or “address local funding issues.” The city and MTA are seeking $19 million in federal money towards the project’s $88 million cost.

Last week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also announced that the FTA would use stimulus funds to speed up the disbursement of the federal share of the LIRR’s East Side Access (providing an extra $195 million in the coming fiscal year) and the Second Avenue Subway ($79 million). The money does not increase the total federal commitment to the projects, but could take some heat off of the MTA’s capital program in the short term.

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