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Passage of FAST Act Sets Stage for Next Steps in DC
With the passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in December, the year ahead is sure to focus on the interpretation and rollout of its programs.Work will continue on installation, implementation, testing and utilization of PTC on all commuter and freight railroads throughout the nation. The previous implementation deadline for this system was Dec. 31, 2015; however, through the hard work of APTA members and staff, Congress extended the deadline three years to 2018. Under the new law, the secretary of DOT has additional discretion to grant deadline extensions on a case-by-case basis. These extensions will necessitate a more rigorous implementation plan, with milestones to be reached by designated dates.
APTA will closely monitor how the changes made in this law will affect our members as well as the continued implementation of MAP-21 policies and administration initiatives.
Thanks to years of hard work and advocacy, Congress restored Bus and Bus Facilities Competitive Grants, which were funded in the bill at a level of $268 million from the Mass Transit Account. Included within this sum is $55 million dedicated to a No/Low Emissions program. The exact metrics and evaluation procedures will be determined by DOT, and APTA will serve as your voice to ensure that the administration considers member priorities.
The FAST Act includes new tools for procurement targeted for small operators, but available to any operator regardless of size. DOT will establish a clearinghouse for grantees to let other grantees know about planned rolling stock purchases to facilitate joint procurement opportunities. DOT will also designate at least three “nonprofit cooperative purchasing organizations” to act in an administrative capacity on behalf of agencies to run GSA-type schedules.
Additionally, the FAST Act includes language intended to allow states to operate rolling stock procurement schedules that agencies may use regardless of whether they are in the same state. Public transit agencies and rolling stock manufacturers will want to pay close attention as these provisions are implemented.
Additionally, the bill dedicates a total of $50 million for the installation of PTC, with half coming from a railroad safety infrastructure improvement grant program and the other half from railroad safety technology grants at an 80 percent federal share.
This law authorizes $199 million from the Mass Transit Account to be used for PTC implementation in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017. Of additional note is that an appropriation of General Funds was made for PTC in FY 2016, and it is the hope of APTA that additional funds may be appropriated in the future.
APTA will host its annual Legislative Conference March 13-15 at the JW Marriott in Washington, DC. As in years past, the conference will offer multiple panels including lawmakers, industry leaders and experts on public transportation. APTA highly encourages our members to use this time in the nation’s capital to visit your elected officials’ offices and thank them for their efforts in passing the FAST Act and highlighting the benefits the bill will bring. The passage of the first long-term, fully funded surface transportation bill in a decade is deserving of all our thanks.
However, despite the success of 2015 and the fully funded nature of the FAST Act, work will continue in 2016, and perhaps beyond, as APTA, its transportation coalition partners and advocates in Congress continue to discuss ideas for long-term, sustainable revenue solutions for the Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit Account.
On the regulatory front, APTA anticipates that FTA will continue implementation of the extensive rulemaking requirements that flowed from MAP-21.
First out for the year should be a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to establish agency safety programs. This NPRM will build on earlier efforts to outline the overall safety program, State Safety Oversight programs and standards for safety professionals.
FTA will also continue its efforts to craft its transit asset management rules, having collected public comment on the overall program parameters and currently on reporting requirements for the National Transit Database.
Look for final rules on planning and FTA’s new pass/fail bus testing framework this spring as well as proposed rules for private sector involvement and updates to FTA’s Buy America regulation.