The expansion is good news to many places looking a way to make local dollars go farther, but the program has changed from merit-based allocation to first come, first served. The first creditworthy applications in the door — no matter what kind of project — will get the funding, skewing winners toward those with the biggest administrative departments (like state DOTs). That could mean that more complicated and innovative projects will go wanting after a long line of older “off the shelf” projects consume the available loans.
On the positive side, other changes do make it easier for transit agencies with dedicated local or state sales taxes to access TIFIA loans to improve their system, and a share of the money is reserved for rural infrastructure projects.
A reconstituted program called Projects of Regional and National Significance (PRNS) provides competitive grants for large highway, transit or intermodal projects typically with a total cost in excess of $500 million, or at least 50 percent of a state’s annual highway funding.
Though billed as a replacement for the popular TIGER program, it differs in critical ways, Unlike TIGER, local governments and metro areas cannot apply for the funding. Only states, transit agencies and tribal governments can apply, and port and freight rail projects are not eligible. TIGER was intended to fund innovative, cost-effective projects that were hard to fund under the previous transportation program — and they will be no easier to do under this new law.
This program is authorized for up to $500M in funding in 2013 and no funding in 2014, but like the New Starts program, it’s subject to the annual appropriations process, so it’s not guaranteed.
7. Transit stays in the trust fund, with more accountability for repair and safety
Under MAP-21, transit agencies for the first time will be required to measure the condition of their systems, set targets for improvement and report on their progress. Today FHWA has condition data for each half-mile segment of the Interstate system but there is no similar metric for the thousands of miles of transit.
The bill provides permanent authority to small bus operators in metro areas with fewer than 100 buses to use a portion of their federal funds to keep buses running. However, this authority was not extended to the larger transit systems, which have faced many of the same cuts and tough choices.
- Consolidates programs focused on serving older Americans and the disabled, and increases funding
- Increases funding for rural transportation services
- Helps extend “last mile” intercity bus connections with private investments
- Does not require but allows states to spend funds on the Job Access and Reserve Commute projects
Communities that are building new transit systems or upgrading existing ones will also be eligible to apply for new planning grants to help them efficiently locate jobs and housing near new transit stations, boosting ridership and increasing the amount of money gained back at the farebox.
8. Multiple changes to environmental and citizen review, with unpredictable impact
The bill makes many modifications to the project review process in hopes of speeding up the construction. While this is certainly a goal worth supporting, many of the new changes damage the ability of local communities to have a voice in projects that will have enormous impacts on their quality of life, air and water.
There were a large number of changes made to review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) after significant focus and debate in conference, but here are a few of the key changes: