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After Complaints About Delays, Federal Transit Administration Announces Grant Awards

A worker operates a backhoe at the construction site of the Metro Purple Line extension in Los Angeles.

A worker operates a backhoe at the construction site of the Metro Purple Line extension in Los Angeles. Jae C. Hong / AP Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The next step is executing funding agreements allowing public transit project sponsors to actually spend the money.

The Federal Transit Administration recently awarded $281 million in construction grants, three months after advocates criticized the Trump Administration for delays in spending public transit money.

Capital Investments Grant Program funds go toward major transit infrastructure projects nationwide, but FTA previously stated most local governments or transportation agencies hadn’t satisfied all the requirements needed to receive the money.

Projects covered by the latest round of funds on Nov. 28 are the Tempe Streetcar in Arizona, Westside Purple Line Extension in Los Angeles, Mid-Coast Light Rail in San Diego, and Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit in Minneapolis.

“I’m very excited to see them moving projects forward; it’s an important sign,” Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, told Route Fifty, but she noted that despite the FTA announcement there are still further steps in the process. “That doesn’t obligate them to anything.”

Project sponsors can’t get the money until full-funding grant agreements are signed, Osborne added, and that hasn’t happened yet.

T4A, which represents elected officials, transit companies and civic groups, has been running a real-time clock tracking what they termed the delay on “projects where [FTA] had all the information they needed by their own admission and just weren’t acting.” The group believes all FY 2017 and FY 2018 CIG Program funds are now allocated, but its clock won’t be updated until money is spent on the actual projects.

FTA expects to execute 13 CIG funding agreements by Dec. 31 for $3.3 billion, excluding the five newly funded projects. The Trump administration said the Obama administration had only executed 10 agreements for $1.1 billion during the same timeframe.

Most recently, FTA reached a $149 million funding agreement on Friday with the Orange County Transportation Authority for the Santa Ana Streetcar in California, while another another agreement for Sound Transit’s Lynwood Link in Washington state is pending. FTA saw the opening of Jacksonville, Florida’s new First Coast Flyer BRT line on Monday.

"FTA continues to evaluate and advance projects in the CIG program, considering each project on its individual merits while demonstrating good governance consistent with discretion afforded in federal law," said K. Jane Williams, acting administrator of FTA, in a statement.

Despite the Trump administration’s emphasis on speeding up projects, FTA waited until the “last minute” on steps like issuing letters of prejudice, which notify project sponsors of their failure to meet certain grant requirements, Osborne said.

FTA did not respond to a request for comment.

“Just because we’ve seen some good administration lately, doesn’t mean we’re not going to watch them,” Osborne said. “If they fall back into old habits, where everything slows down … we are going to be there to point that out.”

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Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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