A new Government Accounting Office report says the Federal Transit Administration has failed to meet three statutory requirements (two from MAP-21 and one from the FAST Act) related to the Capital Investments Grant program, the primary source of federal funding for commuter, light rail, subway, ferry and bus rapid transit projects. FTA says it has no plans to do so.
GAO says FTA has not issued regulations for rating Core Capacity Improvement projects; established a grant program for simultaneous development of multiple transit projects; or implemented a pilot program for fast-track transit project approval.
These are not trivial matters. Core Capacity Improvement projects are investments in existing commuter, light rail, subway, ferry and BRT systems designed to increase corridor capacity, so a rating system could ensure that the best projects get funding. A grant program for simultaneous development of multiple transit projects (aka, a “program of interrelated projects”) could help transit systems in fast-growing cities deliver multiple, complementary projects more efficiently. Implementation of a pilot program for fast-track transit project approval, a FAST Act mandate, would facilitate faster clearance and funding of capital grants.
FTA told GAO they had no immediate plans to advance any of these requirements, in part because the Trump Administration has proposed to phase out the Capital Investments grant program. GAO notes that the FY2018 omnibus spending bill appropriated $2.6 billion and “required FTA to continue to administer the program in accordance with the procedural and substantive requirements specified in statute.” This, by the way, is as pointed as GAO gets.
Even recognizing the other important work of the agency, I am surprised FTA is not moving to implement these statutory requirements. FTA might be missing an opportunity to make the Capital Investments Grant program better, stronger and faster, which would do a lot to ensure the program’s survival.