Capital Investment Program Frequently Asked Questions

MAP-21 has restructured the steps in the Capital Investment Grant Program process to allow New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity projects to move more expeditiously through the program. These Frequently Asked Questions discuss how to get into and through the various steps in the process.


How do I obtain Capital Investment Grant Program funding for my project?

The Capital Investment Grant program is a discretionary grant program unlike most others in government. Instead of an annual call for applications and selection of awardees by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the law requires that projects seeking CIG funding complete a series of steps over several years to be eligible for funding. For New Starts and Core Capacity projects, the law requires completion of two phases in advance of receipt of a construction grant agreement – Project Development and Engineering. For Small Starts projects, the law requires completion of one phase in advance of receipt of a construction grant agreement – Project Development.

The law also requires that FTA recommend in an Annual Report to Congress a proposed allocation of funding to the projects it believes are meritorious. FTA decides whether to include a project as a funding recommendation in the Annual Report to Congress based on:

  1. the evaluation and rating of the project under the criteria specified in law;
  2. the availability of funds; and
  3. considerations related to project readiness including whether:
    1. an advanced level of engineering and design has been completed so that the project scope, cost, and schedule are considered reliable (taking into consideration of course the project delivery method selected); and
    2. at least 50 percent of the non-Section 5309 funds for the project are committed.

Ultimately, Congress decides how much funding to provide to the program annually in an appropriations act.

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Do projects previously approved into the Capital Investment Grant program prior to passage of MAP-21 need to reapply under the new rules or will they be grandfathered?

New Starts and Small Starts projects already in receipt of a construction grant agreement will not be subject to the MAP-21 requirements.

New Starts projects approved into final design and Small Starts projects approved into the SAFETEA-LU project development phase prior to October 1, 2012 (the effective date of MAP-21) will not have to reapply. New Starts projects previously in the SAFETEA-LU Final Design phase will be considered to be in the new MAP-21 “engineering” phase. Small Starts projects previously in the SAFETEA-LU project development phase will remain in the new MAP-21 project development phase. These New and Small Starts projects will need to be re-rated prior to receipt of a construction grant agreement as required by law, but the rating can be based on the old SAFETEA-LU process rather than the new MAP-21 process unless a project sponsor requests to be evaluated under the new process and procedures.

New Starts projects in the SAFETEA-LU preliminary engineering phase that completed the environmental review process prior to October 1, 2012, will be considered to be in the new MAP-21 “engineering” phase and will not need to reapply. (FTA must have issued a categorical exclusion, a finding of no significant impact, or a record of decision for the project for the environmental review process to be complete.) These projects can continue to be covered by the SAFETEA-LU evaluation approach during engineering unless the project sponsor requests to be covered by the new MAP-21 evaluation approach or there are material changes to the project scope or cost. If there are material changes, the project will need to be re-rated under the MAP-21 evaluation approach. When these projects seek a full funding grant agreement, the projects will be rated under the new MAP-21 evaluation approach. This allows project sponsors time during engineering to complete any analyses needed to develop the new MAP-21 criteria.

New Starts projects in the SAFETEA-LU preliminary engineering phase that had not completed the environmental review process prior to October 1, 2012 will be considered to be in the new MAP-21 “project development” phase and will not need to reapply. They will need to be rated under the MAP-21 evaluation approach to be admitted into the engineering phase after the completion of the environmental review process. If these projects have a material change in cost or scope during engineering and when they seek to move from engineering to a full funding grant agreement, they will be re rated under the MAP-21 evaluation approach. The MAP-21 evaluation approach is outlined in the final rule published by FTA on January 9, 2013 found at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-01-09/pdf/2012-31540.pdf.

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Should project sponsors continue working on Alternatives Analyses they started under SAFETEA-LU since MAP-21 no longer requires that an Alternatives Analysis be completed?

SAFETEA-LU required that an alternatives analysis (AA) be completed before a project sponsor could apply to the FTA Capital Investment Grant program. MAP-21 eliminates this stand alone AA requirement under Section 5309 and instead relies on the evaluation of options that may occur during the metropolitan planning process and the review of alternatives that occurs to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Project sponsors may still conduct a stand-alone AA separate from the NEPA review if they wish. This may ultimately streamline the environmental review process because the results of prior planning work evaluating alternatives may be incorporated into the NEPA review. If a sponsor chooses to do a separate AA to help inform the NEPA process, FTA’s involvement would be minimal compared to what it had been under SAFETEA-LU. FTA would not comment on the adequacy of the AA or the alternatives covered in it, other than identifying its sufficiency for incorporation into the NEPA process. As general good planning practice, FTA would suggest sponsors look at a range of alternatives and consider carefully the evaluation criteria that will be used to choose among alternatives. FTA is available for technical assistance if requested.

Early scoping is another option. It is an optional early NEPA planning step that precedes formal NEPA scoping. FTA encourages the use of early scoping as a way to start the NEPA process when a proposed action (a locally preferred alternative, for example) has not yet been identified and a large number of transit mode and alignment alternatives in a broad study area are under consideration. Early scoping activities can include public meetings, newspaper advertisements, and meetings with Federal, state and local agencies and non-government to government tribal outreach that may have an interest in the outcome of the study. Early scoping can also help streamline the NEPA process.

If early scoping is intended to result in screening of alternatives for future study, the process would need to comply with the requirements for linking planning and NEPA if the elimination of alternatives is to be given credit in the NEPA process.

The decision of whether to begin or complete an AA already underway is a local one. FTA will offer technical advice if requested.

For further guidance on the current requirements related to the analysis of alternatives in NEPA and linking planning and NEPA please review:

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What should I submit to FTA if I wish to apply for entry into the Project Development phase of the Capital Investment Grant program?

Project sponsors wishing to enter the Project Development phase as a New Starts, a Small Starts, or a Core Capacity project should submit a letter to the Associate Administrator for FTA’s Office of Planning and Environment that includes the following information:

  • The name of the study sponsor, any partners involved in the study, and the roles and responsibilities of each
  • Identification of a project manager and other key staff that will perform the Project Development work
  • A brief description and clear map of the corridor being studied including its length and key activity centers
  • The transportation problem in the corridor or a statement of purpose and need
  • Identification of a proposed project if one is known and alternatives to that project if any are being considered
  • Identification of a cost estimate for the project, if available
  • Identification of whether the project would be a New Starts, Small Starts, or Core Capacity project
  • A brief description of current levels of transit service in the corridor, including a listing of the existing transit routes in the corridor, their frequency, and existing ridership
  • Copies of prior studies done in the corridor, if any
  • The anticipated cost of Project Development
  • Identification of the funding available and committed to conduct the Project Development work
  • Documentation demonstrating commitment of funds for the Project Development work (e.g. Board resolutions, adopted budgets, approved Capital Improvement Programs, approved Transportation Improvement Programs, letters of commitment)
  • If the project is a New Starts or Core Capacity project, an anticipated timeline for completing the following activities (ensure the schedule demonstrates the ability to complete the Project Development work within 2 years as prescribed in MAP-21):
    • compliance with NEPA and related environmental laws;
    • selection of a locally preferred alternative;
    • adoption of the locally preferred alternative in the fiscally constrained long range transportation plan;
    • completion of the activities required to obtain a project rating under the evaluation criteria outlined in the law
    • completion of the readiness requirements for entry into Engineering; and
    • anticipated receipt of a construction grant agreement from FTA
    • anticipated start of revenue service
  • If the project is a Small Starts project, an anticipated timeline for completing the following activities:
    • compliance with NEPA and related environmental laws;
    • selection of a locally preferred alternative;
    • adoption of the locally preferred alternative in the fiscally constrained long range transportation plan;
    • completion of the activities required to obtain a project rating under the evaluation criteria outlined in the law; and
    • anticipated receipt of a construction grant agreement from FTA
    • anticipated start of revenue service

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How soon will FTA respond to my request to enter Project Development?

Upon receipt of a request to enter Project Development as a New Starts, Small Starts or Core Capacity project, FTA will review the materials provided by the project sponsor. If anything is unclear, or documentation from the list above is missing, FTA will follow-up with the project sponsor via email. Upon receipt of complete information from the project sponsor, FTA will send a letter within 45 days indicating the sufficiency of the information for entry into Project Development to both the project sponsor and Congress per the direction in MAP 21.

A letter from FTA indicating the project may enter Project Development does not imply a funding commitment or endorsement of the project by FTA, and should not be construed as a major milestone. Instead, it merely indicates the project sponsor may begin the initial stage of the process.

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What technical assistance and oversight will FTA provide during Project Development?

During Project Development, prior to the completion of the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), FTA will work with project sponsors to assess the strengths and weaknesses of alternatives still under consideration and provide technical assistance on how to meet the requirements to enter Engineering. Technical assistance may include workshops or other methods focusing on the readiness requirements to enter Engineering.

Formal oversight will generally begin at the completion of NEPA and will be tailored based on the how far the project has advanced in design, the complexity of the project, and the project sponsor’s capability to undertake engineering and construction.

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When may a project sponsor seek entry into the New Starts or Core Capacity Engineering phase?

By law, the following activities must be completed within two years of entering the Project Development phase before a New Starts or Core Capacity project may enter the Engineering phase:

  • Select a local preferred alternative;
  • Have the locally preferred alternative adopted into the fiscally constrained Long Range Transportation Plan;
  • Complete the environmental review process and receive a Categorical Exclusion, a Finding of No Significant Impact, or a Record of Decision from FTA; and
  • Develop sufficient information for FTA to evaluate and rate the project against the statutory project justification and local financial commitment criteria and receive a Medium or better overall rating.

Additionally, upon completion of the environmental review process, FTA encourages project sponsors to complete as much engineering and design work on the locally preferred alternative during Project Development as needed to feel comfortable with the project cost and scope.

To be considered for entry into the Engineering phase, at a minimum the following will be needed:

  • At least 30 percent of the non-Section 5309 funding committed
  • At least the following engineering and design work completed on the project:
    • Project Management Plan and sub-plans that include processes and procedures to continuously manage the project during Engineering and a staffing plan that identifies key personnel and demonstrates the sponsor’s management capacity and capability;
    • Project definition – key elements are reasonably defined;
    • Cost Estimate –addresses key items at a reasonable level, includes a basis for the estimate, and includes required contingency based on the level of design;
    • Schedule – addresses key activities and incorporates proposed delivery methodology;
    • Third Party Agreements and Right-of-Way – identified with a timeline for completion;
    • Geotechnical – preliminary geotechnical report is available;
    • Project Delivery Method – has been selected;
    • Value Engineering – report substantially complete;
    • Safety – hazard and threat analyses and development of safety and security design criteria are underway; and
    • Constructability – a constructability review is underway.

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What type of reviews will FTA undertake to approve entry into Engineering?

MAP-21 requires that FTA evaluate and rate the New Starts or Core Capacity project prior to allowing it into the Engineering phase. Thus, FTA will perform reviews to develop ratings for the project justification and local financial commitment criteria.

FTA will also review the project sponsor’s Project Management Plan and subplans to ensure that the sponsor has the capacity and capability to carry out the project. Lastly, FTA will review the project definition, scope, cost, and schedule for reasonableness. These reviews may be expedited based on factors including the complexity of the project and the project sponsor’s management capacity and capability. Normally, FTA will not perform a risk assessment for entry into Engineering.

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When will FTA conduct a risk assessment for my project?

FTA plans to conduct a formal risk assessment of New Starts and Core Capacity projects during the Engineering phase, along with an update of the project scope, cost and schedule review performed prior to entry into Engineering. Risk Assessments may be streamlined based on the complexity of the project as well as the technical capability of the project sponsor. FTA plans to issue further information on this streamlined approach in the future.

FTA may need to perform updates to its initial risk assessment and scope, cost and schedule reviews prior to awarding a construction grant agreement if aspects of the project change significantly during Engineering.

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When can my project receive a construction grant agreement?

Even if funds have been appropriated or allocated to a New Starts, Small Starts, or Core Capacity project, FTA will not award a construction grant until the following conditions are met and FTA is assured the project is ready:

  • The project’s development and design have progressed to the point where its scope, cost, schedule, benefits, and impacts are considered firm and final;
  • All non-Section 5309 funding is committed;
  • All significant third party agreements are completed;
  • The project continues to obtain at least a Medium overall rating under the statutory evaluation criteria; and
  • The Project Management Plan and subplans have been updated to include a management approach at a sufficient level of development to construct and implement the project.

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Is there a timeframe within which projects must complete the steps in the process leading up to a construction grant agreement?

There is not a set timeframe within which projects must complete the process leading up to a construction grant agreement. Some projects naturally take longer than others to develop because of project complexity, size, number of project partners involved, and/or amount of local funding needed. However, changes in MAP-21 to streamline the process make clear that Congressional intent is to ensure that good projects move quickly.

There are some timeframes that project sponsors should keep in mind:

  • New Starts and Core Capacity projects are required by law to complete the Project Development phase within two years of entering that phase. While the law provides for an extension to the two year timeframe, this is expected to be the rare exception rather than the rule. Thus, FTA advises project sponsors to do “up front” work in advance of seeking entry into Project Development to ensure they can complete the Project Development activities within two years.
  • Within three years of granting approval to enter the Engineering phase, FTA expects New Starts and Core Capacity project sponsors to have made sufficient progress on their projects including obtaining funding commitments for at least half of the non-Section 5309 funding.

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