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General Session Roundtable: Collaboration, Partnerships Strengthen APTA

Representatives of the National Association of Regional Councils, National Association of Counties and National League of Cities shared their insights into the importance of transportation to their members—and the need to keep the momentum going following passage of the FAST Act—at a General Session moderated by APTA Chair Valarie J. McCall, who has set partnerships with other organizations as a top priority of her year in office.

“Transportation is a priority for all these organizations,” McCall said, “and we’re happy to partner with them.”

Patrick Wojahn, mayor of College Park, MD, and chair of the National League of Cities Transportation and Infrastructure Services Committee, reported on the impact of a single regional public transit project on his community. The Maryland Transit Administration is preparing to build the light rail Purple Line, which will connect two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority subway lines and provide free access to students at the University of Maryland using the Metrorail station closest to campus. The 16-mile line will include five stops in College Park. More than 37,000 students are enrolled in the university, which is located in College Park.

“We’re about to see an explosion in new development,” Wojahn said, noting construction of a new hotel and conference center on the campus and downtown revitalization efforts. “I’m immensely excited about the TOD opportunities the Purple Line will offer. TOD will provide space for students and recent alumni to develop businesses within the city and connect with federal facilities around College Park.”

He stressed the necessity of funding stability provided by the FAST Act both to maintain current transportation service levels and to move forward in the future.

“Anyone who doubts the role of public transportation in serving a community need look no further than how the Greater Cleveland area worked together to secure this year’s Republican National Convention,” said Grace Gallucci, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency in Cleveland and a member of the National Association of Regional Councils. “Much of that effort was due to the region’s outstanding transportation infrastructure and ability to get people where they need to go without much traffic congestion. Cleveland had the best walkability score of all cities considered,” she added.

In addition to providing a steady source of revenue, Gallucci said, the FAST Act will increase awareness of the importance of public transit while expanding the role of intercity planning for transit service. However, she said, the law “falls a little short” by not including a permanent funding solution or going far enough in restoring direct federal allocations to MPOs.

Gallucci also noted that McCall, a member of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Board of ­Trustees, was president of her MPO at the time when the organization approved a critical region-wide strategic plan.

Peter McLaughlin, a Hennepin County, MN, commissioner and chair of the National Association of Counties’ Transportation Steering Committee, said the organization “did a victory lap” following the passage of the FAST Act but noted that public transit and its partners “need to be communicating now. We got ourselves up and going, putting forward a coordinated message, and now we need to continue that. We need to continue our advocacy now and make sure the public understands the importance of investing in infrastructure.”

McLaughlin said the Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit in Minneapolis-St. Paul, is promoting a measure that would eliminate state funding for public transit and replace it with a local tax. “We’re saying that the state doesn’t need to fund us if it gives us the responsibility to do it ourselves,” he explained. “That’s the calculation we’ve made. We believe the state’s transaction costs are too high, so we are volunteering to tax ourselves.”

An existing quarter-cent sales tax for public transportation enacted by five counties in 2008 has raised more than $800 million since its enactment, he said, and ridership is at its highest level since 1981. “Our goal is to make a catalytic investment for expansion of Metro Transit,” McLaughlin said.

The panelists responded to McCall’s question about whether local governments and counties would use FAST Act funds for first-mile/last-mile service. Wojahn and Gallucci noted that the law opens up TIFIA loans to TOD projects that could help connect public transit riders to final destinations, including in rural areas, and that Transportation Alternatives funding can go toward bikesharing.

McLaughlin added, “Early planning with your community and its neighborhoods is absolutely critical. Get out there, roll up your sleeves and do the politics.”

Participants in the APTA National Partners Roundtable, from left: moderator Valarie J. McCall, Patrick Wojahn, Grace Gallucci and Peter McLaughlin.
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