Metro hosted a session this morning titled “Everything You Wanted to Know About the New Federal Surface Transportation Bill.” I'll try to distill the nearly three-hour session to a few nuggets for everyday people not versed in the, uh, fascinating universe of transportation funding. *
•At the top of the session, Metro Board Member Richard Katz said “we can't fix L.A. one project at a time…you'll never catch up.” He said that's one reason that Metro is pursuing the extension of Measure R — to build a network of transit and road projects.
•The expanded TIFIA loan program in the new bill is the largest infrastructure loan program in U.S. history, said David Kim, the Associate Administrator for Policy and Governmental Affairs for the Federal Highway Administration. He ticked off the long list of reforms to the program, which will allow Metro to pursue a loan for multiple projects — and for the loan to cover more of a project's cost (up to 49 percent from 33 percent).
One issue raised by Kim: While TIFIA is expanded, there's still only so much money to go around the country.
•The new bill provided enough transit funding to allow Metro to keep its long-range plan intact, said David Yale, Metro's Executive Officer, Countywide Planning and Development. He, like others, raised questions about the long-term impacts of keeping the federal gas tax at its current level — if nothing is done to increase it, federal transportation dollars will likely descrease in future years.
My takeaway from the program was that the expanded TIFIA program — a key part of the America Fast Forward initiative pushed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Metro — is really the centerpiece of the two-year federal bill. With interest rates at historic lows, the TIFIA program is also the centerpiece of the Measure R extension proposal by Metro staff; those are the loans that will be needed to accelerate any projects.
*By “fascinating” I actually mean it's tedious and ridiculously complicated and bureaucratic. The new transportation bill, in fact, takes a stab at consolidating programs and speeding up federal reviews of local projects.