Both parts of America Fast Forward initiative are in President Obama’s proposal for four-year transportation bill!

Earlier today in Minnesota, President Obama announced his proposal for a four-year transportation spending bill that would include both parts of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative. If Congress was to vote the bill into law — and that’s a big ‘if’ — that could be a boon to Metro and other transit agencies around the nation that would have new financial tools to use when building big, pricey transportation projects.

Photo: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Photo: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

America Fast Forward includes two components. The first is a federally-backed loan program called TIFIA that is designed to give agencies access to loans with interest rates lower than can be found on the open market.

The second part is a bond program described in the graphic below. In a nutshell: those who invest in transportation bonds receive federal tax credits instead of interest, a good way for investors to lower their tax burden and a good way for transportation agencies to save on interest costs.


The hope at Metro is to potentially use a combination of TIFIA loans, America Fast Forward bonds, some federal New Starts money (New Starts is a grant program in which the federal government matches local funds to help build big projects) and Measure R tax revenues to accelerate transit projects — in particular the second- and third-decade Measure R projects. Some of those projects: an extension of the Eastside Gold Line, the Airport Metro Connector, the South Bay Green Line Extension and the second and third phases of the Purple Line Extension.

Of course, it should be noted that President Obama’s bill proposal is just that — a proposal.  Transportation bills are designed to guide spending over several years but they have been contentious in Congress in recent years. A four-year bill that expired in 2009 was temporarily extended more than 10 times before Congress in 2012 voted to approve a new two-year bill, which expires at the end of September.

So we’ll see — getting bills approved by Congress is never an easy task. Nonetheless, the fact that President Obama has included both parts of America Fast Forward into his proposal is good news for Metro and officials I spoke with here today expressed their extreme gratitude for the President’s recognition of the program.

Click here to see the entire bill proposal on the White House website.

Metro staff report looks at issues involving potential ballot measure to accelerate and fund transportation projects

First, the caveat: The Metro Board has not — emphasis on the HAS NOT part — decided to take a ballot measure to Los Angeles County voters.

That said, in recent months, both the Board as a whole and individual members have said they want to explore the idea of taking a ballot measure to voters in 2014 or 2016. Furthermore, the Board has instructed Metro to ask local cities what kind of transportation projects that may want funded in such a measure.

As the above Metro staff report explains, there are still many decisions to be made.

Perhaps the most significant: should a ballot measure seek an extension of Measure R to accelerate projects? Or should it perhaps be a new sales tax to provide more money for some Measure R projects and perhaps pay for some new ones?

Some quick background. The Measure R half-cent sales tax increase was approved by 68 percent of county voters in Nov. 2008. The Measure R expenditure plan spread money around to many transit and road projects across the county.

In some cases, Measure R provides most of the money needed to build a project — a good example is the second phase of the Expo Line. In other cases, Measure R only provides partial funding and not enough money for more expensive project alternatives and segments.

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Explaining the other half of America Fast Forward: transportation bonds

America Fast Forward Bonds

Click above to view larger.

Metro last year scored a win when Congress adopted part of the America Fast Forward initiative, expanding a federal loan program called TIFIA that offers low-interest, government backed loans.

Metro is now pushing Congress to adopt the other half of AFF, a bond program designed to raise money to accelerate transportation projects and create jobs.

Which might sound familiar. Everyone in Congress is always talking about job creation, including President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. Metro believes AFF is a good way of tackling that issue while also dealing with a few others — expanding transit, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring that our infrastructure remains in good working order.

The bond program is a bit complex: it’s taken me a while to get my brain wrapped around it. The above graphic explains it well. In one sentence: those who invest in transportation bonds receive federal tax credits instead of interest, a good way for investors to lower their tax burden and a good way for transportation agencies to save on interest costs.

Another way of thinking about it: the program doesn’t ask the federal government to spend directly on transportation projects. It does, however, ask the feds to forgo some tax revenues.

Metro is hoping to get the bond and loan program enshrined in the next multi-year federal transportation spending bill. The current bill expires in 2014, meaning a new bill will hopefully be approved by Congress within the next year.

Measure J results updated again; yes votes rise to 65.33 percent

Here are the latest Measure J results, posted a few minutes ago the Los Angeles County Registrar.

According to the Registar, 130,063 ballots were added to the election results today. It appears of those, 112,383 cast a vote in the Measure J election. That brings the estimated total still to be counted to 215,991 ballots, according to the Registrar.

Measure J needs two-thirds voter approval to pass. As we’ve said the last two weeks, it’s possible but unlikely due to two issues: 1) of the remaining votes to be counted, it’s unlikely all of them cast votes for or against Measure J, and; 2) Of the ballots remaining, it’s likely that at least 75 percent of them would need to be ‘yes’ votes for Measure J to pass.

The news release from the Registrar is posted after the jump.

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Reminder: still room at Wednesday's event explaining new federal transportation bill

Click above to see larger flier.

This should be an interesting event — and a good chance for anyone to learn about the bill from those who know the ins and outs of the legislation. If interested in attending, please make an RSVP today.

A few more points on America Fast Forward

As many of you know, President Obama last week signed a two-year federal transportation spending bill. In recent decades, Congress has usually approved bills that cover more years but in these hyper-partisan times, and after nine extensions of the bill that expired in 2009, this definitely was a victory.

In addition, the bill contained part of the America Fast Forward program that has been created by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and backed by the Metro Board of Directors for the past couple of years.

America Fast Forward (pdf) originally called for expansion of both a federal bond program called QTIB and a federal loan program called TIFIA. The bond part of the program didn’t get traction in Congress — it involved some serious federal spending — but a hefty increase in TIFIA did make it into the bill. And that’s good news for Metro and transit agencies across the land who want to borrow money to build projects now rather than wait years or decades.

In particular because the bill greatly expanded the federal TIFIA program that provides loans, loan guarantees to local transportation projects around the country at competitive interest rates (today’s interest rate is 2.63 percent for a 35-year loan, by the way). As the TIFIA website puts it, “Each dollar of Federal funds can provide up to $10 in TIFIA credit assistance – and leverage $30 in transportation infrastructure investment.”

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America Fast Forward – Embedded in Surface Transportation Bill – Heads to White House for President’s Signature

Metro CEO Art Leahy has just issued this legislative alert:

America Fast Forward – Embedded in Surface Transportation Bill – Heads to White House for President’s Signature

America Fast Forward, the innovative national transportation finance plan championed by our Board Chairman and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and our Board of Directors, is slated to become the centerpiece of the innovative finance portion of America’s new surface transportation program. Earlier today, the United States House of Representatives passed HR 4348, the Conference Report on the new surface transportation bill by a margin of 373-52, with the entire Los Angeles County Congressional Delegation voting in favor. The bill, known as MAP-21, reauthorizes Federal transportation policy and funding levels through September, 2014 at current funding levels, adjusted for inflation. Less than an hour after the House passed HR 4348, the United States Senate followed suit by passing the bill by a margin of 74-19, with both California Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, voting in favor.  Metro is deeply appreciative to our Board of Directors, Senator Boxer and all members of the Los Angeles County Congressional Delegation and other Members of Congress, and the broad coalition of labor, business, and environmental groups who worked hard to ensure that MAP-21 includes America Fast Forward. The bill is headed to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law.

MORE:  American Public Transportation Association (APTA) report
House and Senate Vote to Pass Surface Transportation Conference Report