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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis January 27, 2012
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NPRM Proposes Changes to New Starts and Small Starts

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Jan. 25, 2012, Federal Register that proposes a new framework for how FTA will evaluate and rate major new transit investments in the New Starts and Small Starts programs.

The NPRM was published concurrently with a Notice of Availability of proposed guidance that proposes new measures and methods for calculating the project justification and local financial commitment criteria specified in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). Comments are due no later than 60 days after the release of the notice.

The NPRM contains many changes to streamline the project delivery process, including simplification of measures for evaluating projects. Many provisions support and reflect the transit industry comments submitted by APTA in August 2010.

Among the significant and beneficial changes proposed by FTA are:

* A simpler approach to cost-effectiveness that will measure cost per trip taken on the project;

* Use of the no-build instead of a Transportation System Management baseline for analyzing alternatives;

* Betterments that would now be excluded from the cost side of calculating cost-effectiveness; and

* Expanded use of pre-qualification criteria (warrants) to advance project development.

“Our process for selecting big capital projects is historically successful—but at times painfully and unnecessarily complicated,” said FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff. “We’re aiming to make common-sense changes that will make a big difference to communities throughout the United States that need more mobility, and better access to jobs, sooner rather than later.”

The changes also would yield such benefits as increased transparency and continued rigorous scrutiny of each project proposal. By giving greater emphasis to evaluation criteria concerning environmental benefits and local economic impact, it would be possible for FTA to consider a variety of smaller-scale projects that might better meet a community's needs, including streetcars and rapid bus services.

The New Starts and Small Starts program is one of the largest discretionary grant programs in the U.S. Government. FTA’s final Fiscal Year 2012 appropriation includes more than $2 billion in capital projects requested by President Obama under FTA’s capital investment program. Proposed projects such as rapid rail, light rail, commuter rail, Bus Rapid Transit, and ferries are evaluated and rated on a number of measures at several steps in the process as they seek FTA approval for a federal funding commitment to finance project construction.

FTA has scheduled three informational sessions this month—Feb. 15 in Dallas, Feb. 16 in San Diego, and Feb. 23 in Atlanta—and a webinar on Feb. 28. More information is available from FTA.

The text of the NPRM is available online and the Notice of Availability is here.

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