Posts Tagged ‘Federal Transit Administration’

FTA Changes Matching Fund Rule

February 19, 2021

The Federal Transit Administration has made a significant rule change for projects seeking to receive Capital Investment Grant funding.

The agency no longer will prohibit grant recipients from using CIG grants as part of their local funding match when applying for grants.

That prohibition, which had been imposed during the Trump administration, has been criticized for establishing barriers to certain public transit projects.

In a letter sent this past week the FTA said it will now “rely on the CIG statutory framework”to ensure that projects have met federal transportation law, the Major Capital Investment Projects Final rule, and the CIG Final Interim Policy Guidance published in June 2016.

Some congressional Democrats had accused the Trump administration of using funding policies to delay or thwart such Northeast Corridor rail infrastructure projects as replacing the century old Portal Bridge and constructing a new tunnel linking New York City and New Jersey under the Hudson River, also known as the Gateway project.

Under the new FTA policy, states will be allowed to use federal loans to cover their share of a project’s costs, something New York and New Jersey had planned to do with their federal loans in order to meet their 50 percent match of funding for the Gateway project.

Former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao had in May 2018 prohibited states from using federal loans as part of their project match funding.

Although Congress a year later prohibited USDOT from doing that, the agency continued to maintain its policy of banning use of loans for state matching funds.

Biden Makes Top USDOT Appointments

January 23, 2021

President Joesph Biden has made 39 appointments of top officials to serve in key U.S. Department of Transportation positions.

Amit Bose was named deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. He previously served as FRA deputy administrator, FRA chief counsel, USDOT associate general counsel and USDOT deputy assistant secretary for government affairs.

Bose also has served as vice president for HNTB Corporation and chair of the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor, and has been involved in the California High Speed Rail Project, Northeast Corridor Future, Southeast Passenger Rail and Build America Bureau.

Nuria Fernandez was named deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration

Fernandez most recently was CEO of California’s Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and has served in various executive positions at New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Chicago Transit Authority, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Lana Hurdle, deputy assistant secretary for budget and programs, will serve as acting secretary of transportation until secretary of transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Other appointments included Casey Clemmons, special assistant, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration; Steve Cliff, deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Carlos Monje Jr., senior adviser and acting chief of staff; Alex Pena, special assistant to the general counsel; Stephanie Pollack, deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration; Diana Lopez, senior advisor to the administrator, FRA, and Subash Iyer, chief counsel, FTA.

FTA Commits to Funding New Portal Bridge

June 23, 2020

New Jersey officials say they have received notice from the Federal Transit Administration of a commitment to fund nearly half the project to replace the Portal Bridge on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

The bridge over the Hackensack River is used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains alike.

State officials said the engineering phase of the project can now begin and will be fully funded by federal money.

The FTA wrote recently to NJ Transit CEO Kevin Corbett that the federal agency has elevated the $1.8 billion project to the engineering phase, making it eligible for $766.5 in federal funding. The letter also said NJ Transit must submit a revised financial plan and show it could cover a cost increase or funding shortfall.

New Jersey and Amtrak have agreed to their respective funding shares for the project.

The century-old bridge long has been a traffic chokepoint due to frequent mechanical failures.

Portal Bridge Gets Favorable FTA Rating

February 14, 2020

The Federal Transit Agency this week gave a favorable rating to one component of the Gateway Project in the Northeast Corridor but continued to rate low the other major component.

The replacement of the Portal Bridge in New Jersey received a “medium high” rating from FTA while construction of a new tunnel between New York City and New Jersey continues to receive a “medium low” rating.

It means that the $1.8 billion bridge replacement plan can move to the engineering phase.

The bridge spans the Hackensack River and sometimes fails to lock into place after opening, which delays Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains.

New reports have indicated that the $11 billion tunnel project continues to languish due to the assertion of the federal government that the project is not receiving enough local funding.

The “medium low” priority rating means the tunnel project continues to be ineligible for federal funds.

Amtrak Ups Contribution to Gateway Project

August 27, 2019

In hopes of moving forward the stalled Gateway tunnel project in New York and New Jersey, Amtrak has increased its funding commitment by $600 million.

At the same time, officials have said the cost of the project has fallen by $1.4 billion to $11.3 billion compared with prior cost estimates.

The Gateway Program Development Corporation incorporated those revised numbers plus Amtrak’s additional funding commitment in a new application for federal funding from the Federal Transit Administration.

The Gateway project is now seeking $5.4 billion, less than half of the project and $1.4 billion less than 2018 funding request.

Aside from Amtrak, the Gateway agency is also partnering on the project with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Frank Sacr, interim executive director of the Gateway agency,  said the hope is that the revised plan “will be attractive to the local partners and we believe also to the federal partners, and to the market.”

Construction costs were reduced by reorganizing the project into a smaller number of large packages for construction.

The proposed new tunnel under the Hudson River is located on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

It has been stalled by the Trump administration blocking a deal negotiated during the Obama administration with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

House Approves Transportation Funding Bill

June 29, 2019

The House this week approved a $137.1 billion appropriation bill that includes funding for Amtrak and other transportation programs.

Amtrak would receive $700 million for its Northeast Corridor, $1.3 billion for the national network, $350 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants, and $350 million for Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants.

The Federal Railroad Administration would receive $3 billion and the Federal Transit Administration would get $13.5 billion.

The bill also states that Congress views the Gateway Project in the Northeast Corridor as a priority for federal investment, particularly the Hudson River rail tunnels and the Portal Bridge replacement.

Language was also placed in the bill requiring Capital Investment Grants for rail transit to be spent within a set time frame.

This mirrors language included in last year’s bill and reflects discontent with how the FTA has responded.

The latest language requires that if if transit grant funds aren’t distributed to new projects by Dec. 31, 2021, the FTA will be forced to redistribute that money to projects already in the engineering phase or face consequences.

5 Transportation Nominees Resubmitted to Senate

January 18, 2019

The Trump administration has resubmitted to Congress the names of five people who had been nominated for rail transportation federal leadership posts but whose appointments were not approved by the Senate before the 115th Congress permanently adjourned.

The nominees include three seats on the Amtrak board of directors, one seat on the Surface Transportation Board and an appointee to head the Federal Transit Administration.

Senate rules require nominations not acted upon during a two-year, congressional session to be returned to the White House for re-submission during the next session of Congress.

Those who have been nominated a second time include:

Rick A. Dearborn to the Amtrak board for a five-year term, succeeding former BNSF attorney Jeffrey R. Moreland, whose term expired, but who is in holdover status.

Joseph Ryan Gruters to the Amtrak board for a five-year term, succeeding Albert DiClemente, whose term expired, but who is in holdover status.

Leon A. Westmoreland to the Amtrak board for a five-year term to fill a vacant seat.

Michelle A. Schultz to be a member of the Surface Transportation Board for a five-year term to fill a still-vacant new seat created in 2015.

Thelma Drake to be Federal Transit Administrator, succeeding Peter M. Rogoff, who resigned in 2015.

All five nominations have already been considered by the applicable Senate oversight committees and all have been recommended for confirmation.

The decision to bring the nominations to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote is at the discretion of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The list of five nominees does not include a Democratic nominee for an STB seat vacated Dec. 31 by Deb Miller, who has been awaiting renomination to a second term for more than a year.

By law Miller must leave the agency following the expiration of her allowable holdover year. Miller is expected to be named by the White House to be re-appointed to the STB.

Federal Govt. Shutdown Not Affecting Amtrak for Now

December 28, 2018

Although Amtrak continues to operate as usual during the partial government shutdown, the passenger carrier could be adversely affected if the stalemate in Congress lasts for several weeks.

That is because one of the functions of the U.S. Department of Transportation that has been idled by the shutdown is the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Railroad Policy and Development, which is the primary grantor of federal funds to Amtrak.

All employees of this office have been furloughed for the duration of the shutdown.

A length shutdown could endanger the flow of federal funds to Amtrak, although it not clear other than to top Amtrak management how long it would be before that happens.

In a worst case scenario, Amtrak might have to suspend service.

In the meantime, Amtrak employees will continue to be paid for their work and the trains continue to run as scheduled.

USDOT said that 30 percent of its employees, or 20,442 people, are expected to be furloughed.

About 40 percent of the FRA workforce will be idled although staff in the Office of Railroad Safety will work during the shutdown.

They won’t be paid, but are expected to receive retroactive pay once the shutdown ends.

At the Federal Transit Administration 493 of the 558 employees have been idled.

A small staff is being kept on to handle emergencies, but transit and local-government authorities won’t receive any funding until the shutdown ends.

This affects grants, cooperative agreements, contracts, purchase, orders, travel authorizations, or other documents obligating funds would be executed,” DOT said in its shutdown plans.

The Surface Transportation Board said its website saying that “All Surface Transportation Board operations – including this website and agency email – are suspended for the duration of the partial federal government shutdown.”

Senate-confirmed presidential nominees are exempt from the shutdown and continue to be paid.

This includes FRA Administrator Ronald Batory, STB board members Ann Begeman and Deb Miller, and DOT Secretary Elaine Chao among others.

FY2018 Budget Gives Amtrak Funding a Boost

March 26, 2018

A federal budget bill approved by Congress last week contained an increase in funding for Amtrak, although that funding boost is expected to be used to help pay for the Gateway project in New York-New Jersey.

However, Amtrak’s long-distance trains would also receive an upward bump in funding.

News reports indicate that Amtrak will receive a minimum of $388 for the Gateway project, which involves replacement of tunnels leading into New York City beneath the Hudson River.

The $1.3 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 allocates more money for passenger rail projects than Congress has approved since the 2008 economic stimulus spending programs ended.

The budget directs $650 million to the Northeast Corridor while Amtrak’s national network will receive $1.292 billion. Those are both increases from 2017 funding of $328 million for the NEC in 2017 and $1.1 billion for the national network. Amtrak’s total appropriation will be $1.942 billion, up from $1.428 billion.

Other transportation programs also fared well in the budget bill.

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program was given a $1 billion boost over 2017 levels to $1.5 billion available. At least 30 percent of these grants will go to rural communities.

Federal investments in rail infrastructure and safety programs was funded at $3.1 billion.

Also included is funding for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants at $250 million to address critical rail investments nationwide and on the NEC.

Rail safety and research programs received $287 million to fund inspectors and training, plus maintenance and safety investments to the physical rail infrastructure.

Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants were given $593 million to fund capital and safety improvements, planning, environmental work and research. There is also $250 million included for grants available to rail operators for the installation of positive train control.

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program received a $25 million allocation for the first time and $350,000 has been set aside to help short line and regional railroads participate in the program.

The Federal Transit Administration received $13.5 billion, which includes $9.7 billion “to help local communities build, maintain, and ensure the safety of their mass transit systems.”

Within the $9.7 billion is $2.6 billion for Capital Investment Grants transit projects. “New Starts” projects are funded at $1.5 billion, Core Capacity projects at $716 million and Small Starts projects at $400 million.

The Trump administration and President Donald Trump in particular have opposed federal funding of the Gateway project, saying that the states of New York and New Jersey needed to spend more of their own money for most of the project.

The project involves building a new Tunnel under the Hudson River and replacing the century-old Portal Bridge on the NEC.

There has been speculation that Trump opposed the Gateway project as retribution to New York and New Jersey Congressmen and Senators who opposed a tax cut bill that he favored and which Congress passed last December.

At one point Trump had threatened to veto any bill containing federal funding for Gateway.

The 2018 budget will circumvent the Trump administration’s opposition to federal funding of the Gateway project.

Amtrak is likely to contribute a minimum of $388 million to Gateway though its Northeast Corridor Account, while New York and New Jersey will receive $153 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s High-Density States and State of Good Repair grant programs.

Gateway is projected to receive 60 percent of the original federal dollars intended for it.

The budget bill ensured that the U.S. Department of Transportation will have limited ability to withhold the $650 million earmarked for the Northeast Corridor Account, which also funds projects throughout the region.

FTA Downgrades NEC Projects

February 16, 2018

The proposed Amtrak Gateway projects in the Northeast Corridor were downgraded in importance this week by the Federal transit Administration, a move that might make receiving federal funding, more difficult.

The FTA in its annual funding recommendations report to Congress on the Capital Investment Grants program rated the Hudson Tunnel and the Portal North Bridge replacement projects as “medium-low” in priority for federal grants.

That is the second-lowest rating on a five-point scale that helps determine whether federal funding is warranted.

The FTA ratings indicate the Trump administration’s shift away from the Obama administration’s support for federal help in paying for the projects, Gateway program supporters said.

“In case it wasn’t clear before, President Trump today tried to land another death blow to Gateway, by having his Federal Transit Administration vindictively and inexplicably downgrade the project in order to cut off critical federal funding,” said U.S. Senator Robert Menendez in a statement.

Michael Friedberg, executive director of the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor said the FTA’s decision means the corridor’s stakeholders need to “raise their voices and work harder” to show the administration and Congress that the Gateway program is necessary to support the region’s economy.

The Portal North bridge is a two-track moveable swing-span structure located between Kearny and Secaucus, New Jersey, that forms a link between New Jersey and New York Penn Station.

Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have agreed to fund half of the $1.5 billion cost to build the new bridge.

The Hudson Tunnel project calls for a new tunnel to be built under the Hudson River and rebuild the 106-year-old North River Tunnel, which currently has two tracks under the river between New York Penn Station and New Jersey.

The tunnel was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

Although Amtrak claims the tunnel is safe for use, emergency maintenance continues to interrupt service.