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.

america-fast-forward-bonds

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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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

Congress votes again to extend federal transportation bill

Below is the update from Metro’s government relations staff. This is the ninth extension of the previous multi-year federal transportation bill, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2005 and expired originally in 2009. The update:

A few moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a 90-day extension of the current Surface Transportation Authorization (H.R. 4281) on a 266 to 158 vote. H.R. 4281 will now be sent over to the U.S. Senate. This extension, though free of policy changes, was looked unfavorably upon by the U.S. Senate, which called on the House to pass their Surface Transportation Re-authorization Bill (MAP-21) that passed the Senate earlier in March. The current extension, and accompanying gas taxes, expires on Sunday, April 1, 2012.

The two-year bipartisan bill approved by the Senate — known as MAP-21 — includes provisions of Metro’s America Fast Forward plan to expand a federal loan program for major transportation projects. Whether House Republicans will ever consider the bill remains to be seen.

 

UPDATE, 2:45 p.m.: The Senate has agreed to the extension. Update from Metro government relations:

The U.S. Senate has passed the 90-day surface transportation authorization extension by unanimous consent. The extension, as passed by the House hours ago, will now move to the President’s desk for his signature. This new extension (the ninth such extension since SAFETEA-LU originally expired on September 30, 2009) will expire on June 30, 2012.

Our agency will continue to closely monitor the surface transportation bills in both the House and Senate.

Transit advocacy group discusses Measure R extension

The activist group Move LA held its “L.A. on the Verge’ event at Union Station on Friday, with a big focus on transportation funding.

The group is headed by former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane, who clearly let the hundreds in attendance know his position: the Measure R sales tax increase that expires in 2039 should be extended by voters.

Such an extension could accomplish two things, according to Zane: 1) It could help accelerate the building of the 12 Measure R transit projects if Congress doesn’t fully adopt the America Fast Forward plan (and they’re not likely to), and; 2) It may help finance additional transit and highway projects beyond the original Measure R package approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

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New Federal Transportation Authorization bill will be delayed — again

The update from Metro’s government relations staff is below. The agency has been pushing for America Fast Forward legislation — to use government loans and financing to accelerate the building of transit and road projects — to be included in the bill.

A new multi-year bill was supposed to be passed by Congress two years ago. Fighting between Democrats and Republicans has delayed it, leading to several short-term renewals of the existing bill, which covered spending through fiscal year 2009 and was signed by President Bush in Aug. 2005.

The bill is also a chance for the federal government to lay out its transportation spending priorities for the next several years. For example, if the federal government wanted to greatly expand spending on transit, the multi-year bill would be the place to do it.

The update:

Despite a sustained effort by public transportation agencies, many Members of Congress, and a broad coalition of private sector organizations, Congress is poised to move consideration of a new federal transportation authorization bill to 2012. Efforts to reauthorize the previous surface transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU) in 2011 effectively ended this afternoon in Washington, DC when the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica (R-FL) announced that the legislative schedule next month would not permit him to move forward with a new transportation bill. The current extension of SAFETEA-LU is slated to expire on March 31, 2012. Our agency will continue to work diligently with Chairman Mica, Chairman Boxer of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and members of the Los Angeles County Congressional Delegation to ensure that our Board-approved legislative program is advanced in any transportation authorization bill considered by the second session of the 112th Congress in 2012.