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.

Funding included for Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector in federal spending bill for 2014


PurpleLineMap

ConnectorMap

Good news for the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector, the pair of Metro projects slated to receive money this fiscal year from the federal New Starts program. The projects are set to receive $65 million each in the 2014 fiscal year.

New Starts helps local transit agencies fund large projects and Congress appears set to fund New Starts for fiscal year 2014. The federal program is currently helping to fund over two dozen projects around the United States. New Starts is also an annual target for some critics, so it’s good to hear that it is being fully funded in fiscal year 2014.

Overall, the Purple Line Extension’s first phase is due to receive about $1.25 billion and the Connector $675 million in New Starts money. Both projects are also receiving money from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 2008, as well as a federally-backed loan program called TIFIA.

The cost of planning and construction of the first phase of the Purple Line is budgeted at $2.86 billion while planning and construction of the Regional Connector is budgeted at $1.42 billion.

The New Starts money is awarded to transit agencies on an annual basis — the money isn’t awarded all at once, thus the reason that both the Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector are set to each $65 million in this fiscal year’s spending bill.

Here is coverage in the L.A. Times today and here is the update from Metro’s government relations staff:

House/Senate Spending Bill For Fiscal Year 2014 is Made Public –Full Funding Included for New Starts Program

Moments ago, the details of H.R. 3457, a bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2014 was made public. The bill, which includes a funding level of just over $1 trillion, will likely be voted on first by the U.S. House of Representatives and then later this week by the U.S. Senate. The bill includes the following language regarding the U.S. Department of Transportation’s New Starts program:

CAPITAL INVESTMENT GRANTS – The bill appropriates $1,942,938,000 for new fixed-guideway projects. Combined with available prior year transit funds, a total of $2,132,000,000 is available for new start activities.

This level of funding is adequate to fully fund the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget request of $65 million for the Purple Line Extension and $65 million for the Regional Connector. The bill issued this evening also increases funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s popular TIGER grant program to $600 million, an increase of $100 million over last year.

And here are the New Starts project profiles for both the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, December 19

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison!

ART OF TRANSIT: An oil rig in the Santa Barbara Channel with one of the Channel Islands in the background (I think Anacapa). Photo by Steve Hymon.

ART OF TRANSIT: An oil rig in the Santa Barbara Channel with one of the Channel Islands in the background (I think Anacapa). Photo by Steve Hymon.

An idea to get train safety on track (Daily News)

The editorial says it’s time to implement positive train control on America’s passenger railroads in order to prevent crashes — and not delay federal mandates to do so by 2015. Excerpt:

In the interest of getting PTC installed in the nation’s trains as soon as possible, American train passengers (and those who love them) should be willing to pay more of the price. If this means putting more federal taxpayer money into the project, so be it.

Californians can probably think of a chunk of money that would work nicely: the $3.3 billion in federal cash earmarked for the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco-area high-speed rail project, a sum whose fate is uncertain after the bullet train’s latest legal setback.

What’s more valuable, perhaps the most significant rail safety feature that will be adopted in our lifetimes, or the California bullet-train plan that sounds more and more like a futurist’s fantasy?

Metrolink has been extremely proactive in installing PTC. But they’re the exception, not the rule.

L.A.’s Union Station in black-and-white (L.A. Times) 

Photographer Mark Bolster breaks out his Leica M6 and black-and-white film to shoot the venerable station. And the results are predictably beautiful. One of my dream cameras, btw: the Leica M Monochom, a digital camera that only shoots in black-and-white. Only problem is the price; the body alone costs about 8,000 boxes of ziti.

Cincinnati’s mayor: we’re going to have a streetcar (Cincinnati Enquirer)

The City Council voted 6-3 today to resume the city’s downtown streetcar project after earlier this month voting 5-4 to put construction on hold, a rare move. There were two items in play: an audit that found that stopping the project would cost more than resuming it and a $900,000-a-year commitment for 10 years from a private foundation to pay for streetcar operations.

I’m from Cincy and I think it’s a smart move to finish the project. The city has been bleeding population to the suburbs for decades and downtown desperately needs a way to help reinvent itself and lure more people back to the city beyond pro sports. No, the streetcar is not a panacea for Cincinnati’s ills — but if it lures development and jobs back to the city core, then it’s a good thing.

Chicago’s smart card debacle and privatization (The Nation)

The first of a two-part series on problems encountered by the Chicago Transit Authority when they adopted fare cards similar to TAP cards. The big question the article ponders is who profits from such efforts — and why public officials are allowing private companies to charge so-called ‘convenience fees’ to users of a public transit system.

U.S. Department of Transportation ranked eighth best place to work (USDOT)

That’s eighth best among federal agencies, that is. They ranked ninth last year, says the press release. May I humbly suggest that any workplace that devotes time to issuing news releases boasting about being eighth best….never mind.

Ten most ambitious subway projects ever (Jalopnik)

Some have been built, some not — such as the Transatlantic tunnel that ranks first on the list.

Transportation headlines, Monday, December 2

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison!

Ridership discrepancy calls Metro’s estimation method into question (L.A. Times)

The article ponders the difference between Metro’s traditional way of estimating ridership and new data generated by the latched turnstiles at entrances to Red and Purple Line stations. The traditional ridership estimates have been running significantly higher than the turnstile counts since gates begun to be latched in June.

Metro officials say that the turnstile data is preliminary and not yet complete enough to serve as a substitute for ridership data. As for ridership, officials say the traditional estimates seem to be capturing trends on the subway and that the methodology behind those estimates is approved by the Federal Transit Administration.

Speed is cited as possible cause of deadly train crash in the Bronx (New York Times) 

No official word yet on the cause of the Metro North commuter train derailment just north of Manhattan on Sunday morning that killed four passengers and critically injured 11.

The speed limit along the curved stretch of track next to the Hudson River is 30 miles per hour and officials suggested Monday that the train was going faster; no one knows why. The NYT quotes an anonymous source saying the engineer told emergency workers he had to quickly apply the brakes.

Metro North’s Hudson Valley Line remains closed. It has been a difficult year for Metro North; two of its trains on the New Haven Line collided in May, injuring 70, and a railroad worker was struck and killed by a train in late spring.

More states raise taxes to pay for transportation (Kansas City Star) 

With Congress log-jammed, states and local governments are increasingly willing to raise taxes to pay for transportation improvements. Conservative groups are grumbling and may challenge some of the tax hikes, but politicians from both parties are finding that improving infrastructure is popular with voters.

In other words, the closer the politicians live to the actual people and land they govern, the more responsive they are.

Why mass transit is doomed in America: politicians don’t know people who use it (Salon) 

Race, class, fear and shame: transit barriers (KCET)

Two good semi-related articles. At KCET, long-time transit rider D.J. Waldie looks at some recent studies and articles that suggest the so-called ‘car bias’ remains strong and is preventing people from trying transit — even when transit may save them time and money. The big problem, as Waldie writes, is that new policies are encouraging denser developments near transit which may end up housing people who still won’t take the bus or train. Hmmm. No, make that a double hmmm.

At Salon, writer Alex Pareene gets grumpy on the fact that politicians in New York — which should be the most transit-friendly state in the nation owing to the Big Apple — consistently find ways to steer money away from transit.

But it’s not just a New York problem, Pareene writes before delivering a big-time spanking to Minneapolis and Atlanta. And then he finishes up his article with this eternally glorious paragraph which made the Source smile and then smile again:

Just about the only place where there seems to be hope for mass transit in America is, bizarrely enough, Los Angeles, where the system is currently in the process of growing and improving. Why there, of all places? Maybe because while Los Angeles politicians are as unlikely to ride buses and trains as politicians anywhere else, they do have a personal stake in seeing other drivers get the hell off the road.

Here is the Metro staff report on new project acceleration plan to be considered by agency’s Board of Directors this month

Metro project acceleration plan

The Metro Board of Directors this month will consider a project acceleration plan that, on average, would lop an average of 10 years off the time it takes to build second and third decade Measure R transit and road projects. It’s a big deal for many reasons — the foremost being that it could allow the taxpaying public to enjoy the investments they’ve made in local transportation a lot sooner than originally planned.

The Metro staff report that explains the plan is above.

In order to best explain the plan being proposed by Metro staff, it helps first to understand two fundamental truths about Measure R, the half-penny sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

The plus side of Measure R was that it provided funding to a long list of transit and road projects, many of which were long sought by the region but lacked funding. Measure R remedied that — and is the reason that five new rail lines will be under construction simultaneously by the middle of this decade along with a host of highway projects, including the widening of the I-5 between the 605 and the Orange County line.

Measure R, however, also posed a challenge. The sales tax would last for 30 years — from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2039 – and the construction of projects it funded were staggered over that three decade span. The third phase of the Purple Line Extension, for example, is currently scheduled to open in the mid-2030s, meaning the future children of current Bruins may be able take the train to campus. In other words, it’s a long time from now. The is true not just for the Purple Line, but for other lines to the Eastside, the South Bay, Southern L.A. County, the Westside and the San Fernando Valley as well.

It’s precisely for this reason that the Metro Board of Directors adopted a policy in 2010 to accelerate projects if possible under the America Fast Forward plan, which proposed an expansion of low cost federal loans for transportation nationwide. Besides the obvious benefit of getting to ride or drive on projects earlier, acceleration may also allow Metro to save on construction and borrowing costs (recently both have been at historic lows due the Great Recession but may now be starting to rise) and to create much-needed jobs.

I’ll better explain the new acceleration plan in a moment, but first a very important caveat: Approval by the Board doesn’t guarantee that any transit or road project would be accelerated. Ultimately, the plan will depend on Metro’s ability to secure loans and bonds from the federal America Fast Forward program, as well as federal New Starts money. In other words, Congress and President Obama must act to expand the amount of loans and bonds available to transit agencies around the United States and to provide federal New Starts to Los Angeles County.

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Support for America Fast Forward bonds program is coast-to-coast with a lot in between

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Here’s a new graphic from Metro showing the growing support for the bond part of the America Fast Forward program that Congress will hopefully adopt this year. And here’s the update from Metro’s government relations squad:

Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined over 100 mayors from across the United States in encouraging the United States Congress to back our agency’s America Fast Forward Transportation Bond initiative. America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds represent a new class of qualified tax credit bonds that would, if enacted into federal law, significantly increase transportation infrastructure investments across the nation. Support for the initiative is bi-partisan in nature, including from Scott Smith, the Vice-President of the Conference of Mayors. Mayor Smith is a Republican who is currently the mayor of Mesa, Arizona. Please find here a map that illustrates the broad array of America’s mayors in support of America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds.

 

Here’s an earlier post that better explains the bond program. The gist of it: these are bonds that would come without interest for transit agencies, a potential savings of millions of dollars on big projects.

Mayors across the United States show their support for America Fast Forward bond program to accelerate transportation projects

MayoralLetterAFFBonds4-30-13

The America Fast Forward initiative got a nice boost last week when the U.S. Conference of Mayors issued a letter (above) to Congress supporting Metro’s attempt to create a new class of bonds that could be used to accelerate transportation projects across the country, including Metro’s Measure R highway and transit projects. From Metro’s government relations staff:

A letter sent by well over 100 Mayors from across the United States is encouraging the United States Congress to back our agency’s America Fast Forward Transportation Bond initiative.

America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds represent a new class of qualified tax credit bonds that would, if enacted into federal law, significantly increase transportation infrastructure investments across the nation.

The correspondence was spearheaded by the Immediate Past President of the United States Conference of Mayors, Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Director Antonio Villaraigosa.

The letter secured strong bi-partisan support, including from Scott Smith, the Vice-President of the Conference of Mayors.  Mayor Smith is a Republican who is currently the mayor of Mesa, Arizona.

Please find here a copy of the United States Conference of Mayors letter to Congressional leaders in support of America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds.  For your review, please also find here a brochure that includes details on our innovative transportation bond initiative and an illustration on how the America Fast Forward Transportation Bond process would work.

Here’s a helpful pamphlet from Metro explaining how the bonds would work. Congress last year approved another part of the America Fast Forward initiative that expanded a program that offers federal backing of low-interest loans. The bond program is the other equally important part of America Fast Forward.

AFF Bonds Single Page

President Obama’s proposed budget calls for $130 million for two Metro projects: Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector

This page from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation booklet of budget highlights. Click above for the full document (pdf).

This page from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation booklet of budget highlights. Click above for the full document (pdf).

Some very welcome news via the proposed budget released today by President Barack Obama: the budget includes $130 million to help fund two of Metro’s big rail projects: the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector. The budget allocates $65 million to both projects.

This is the first time that both projects will actually receive federal money. The funds are extremely significant because they help supplement Measure R funds for two projects that are both very expensive and need additional funds. Although Congress still must approve the budget, historically these type of funds don’t change much during budget negotiations.

There’s another reason the money is important. The funds are the first payment for more federal dollars that will flow to both projects in future federal budgets via the federal New Starts program that helps local transit agencies pay for big, pricey transit improvements — such as new rail lines.

Formal agreements that detail the New Starts money are expected to be signed between Metro and the Federal Transit Administration later this year. The subway will be asking for $2.3 billion in New Starts money and has a budget of $2.4 billion for its first phase to La Cienega Boulevard. The Regional Connector will be asking for $671 million in New Starts money and has a budget of $1.3 billion.

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Mixed news on transportation funding from Congress — not exactly a shocker, people

For masochistic readers following the tortuous path of transportation funding in Congress, here are a dynamic duo of legislative updates from Metro’s government relations staff.

The first is good news: the House of Representatives restored transportation funding in the budget for the second half of this fiscal year.

The second is not so good news: the House of Representatives is hacking away at transportation funding in a budget they’re preparing for the next fiscal year.

The updates:

House Adopts Six Month Stop Gap Spending Bill

This morning, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Senate-amended version of H.R. 933, a six month stop gap funding bill for the Federal Government for the balance of Federal Fiscal Year 2013.

The bill was adopted by a vote of 318 to 109. As was shared in yesterday’s Legislative Alert, the U.S. Senate passed this bill last night by a vote of 73 to 26. In a welcome development, the bill includes language that aligns the level of funding for federal transportation programs with the amounts authorized for those programs under the newly adopted surface transportation bill, MAP-21.

Under the previous stop gap funding bill that covered the first six months of Federal Fiscal Year 2013, Congress ignored MAP-21 funding levels and kept the funding for federal transportation programs at the lower level provided in Federal Fiscal Year 2012.

Initial estimates of this change in policy indicate that federal transportation programs will receive a boost of $385 million dollars of regular discretionary budget authority for the balance of Federal Fiscal Year 2013. This stop gap funding bill is subject to sequestration, which will cut funding across the board for a number of defense and domestic discretionary programs.

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House GOP releases plan to fund U.S. government for balance of federal fiscal year 2013; yep, it cuts transportation funding

Hey — at least this post isn’t about the sequester! From Metro’s government relations squad: 

Today [Monday], the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) released the text of legislation (H.R. 933) that would serve to fund the U.S. Government through the end of Federal Fiscal Year 2013 (September 30, 2013). The legislation would not fund transportation programs at levels authorized under MAP-21, the new surface transportation bill signed into law by President Obama last year. Rather, the legislation offered today offers reduced federal funding for a number of key federal programs, ranging from safety programs to the New Starts program. The cuts to federal transportation funding have been suggested despite the efforts of legislators, like U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who warned in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) that, “Congress made a commitment to the American people that we were going to invest in our nation’s infrastructure at a time when our economy needs it the most. Congress cannot go back on that promise.” Among the groups registering their strong opposition to the continuing resolution today was Mothers Against Drunk Driving which shared its concern that the legislation would cut grants designed to reduce drunk driving incidents. The House Committee on Rules is expected to consider H.R. 933 tomorrow morning. Please click here to view a copy of H.R. 933.