The Annual Report on New Starts is a collateral document to the President's annual budget submission to Congress. It is meant to be a constructive element in the administration of the Federal transit assistance program, enriching the information exchange between the Executive and Legislative branches at the beginning of an appropriations cycle for the next Fiscal Year.
The President's budget for FY 2000 proposes that $980.40 million be made available for the §5309 major capital investment program. After setting aside a percentage of these funds for oversight activities as specified in §5327, and for ferry capital projects in Alaska or Hawaii as required by §5309(m)(5)(A), $962.725 million is available for project grants. This report recommends funding for 25 projects in FY 2000; of these, 14 have existing Federal funding commitments in the form of Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGA), seven are expected to be ready to negotiate FFGAs by the end of FY 2000, and four are nearing the final stages of preliminary engineering.
Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21)
On June 9, 1998, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), Public Law 105-178, which reauthorizes Federal surface transportation programs through 2003, was enacted. For new starts, TEA-21 leaves prior Federal law and policy largely intact, including the basic project justification criteria and the multiple-measure method of project evaluation. However, a number of significant changes were introduced to the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts Program.
Among the provisions of TEA-21 affecting FTA’s new starts program was language revising §5309(e) to codify many of the principles of FTA's New Starts Policy, which was published in the Federal Register on December 19, 1996 (61 FR 67093) and amended on November 12, 1997 (62 FR 60756). Aspects of the new starts policy which are now written as law, but which remain the same as past policy and practice, include the following:
- Proposed new starts projects must be based on the results of alternatives analysis and preliminary engineering.
- FTA must approve entry into preliminary engineering.
- FTA must find that proposed projects are "justified," based on a "comprehensive review" of several criteria (cost-effectiveness, operating efficiencies, mobility improvements, and environmental benefits) which remain unchanged; a variety of additional considerations that must be taken into account (including congestion relief, air quality, energy consumption, the mobility of transportation dependent persons, economic development, and transit supportive land use policies and patterns) are also unchanged.
- FTA must find that projects are supported by an acceptable degree of local financial commitment; the basis for making this finding (stable and dependable financing sources to construct, maintain, and operate the project) is not changed, and the considerations which are to be taken into account are also largely unchanged.
- Projects are to be funded using Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGAs), which specify the project to be constructed and the maximum amount of Federal funds which will be made available for the project.
- The criteria do not apply to projects which require less than $25 million in §5309 funds, or which are completely funded with flexible Title 23 (highway program) funds.
- FTA's recommendations to Congress regarding projects must be presented in an Annual Report produced in concert with the President's annual budget.
In addition to these, however, TEA-21 introduced a number of important changes to the way FTA manages and implements the new starts program. Among the most significant changes are the following:
- Integration of the Major Investment Study (MIS) concepts into the joint planning and environmental regulations issued by FTA and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) (23 CFR Part 450 and 23 CFR Part 771), elimination of the MIS as a separate requirement, and streamlining of the environmental process.
- A requirement for FTA to establish overall project ratings of "highly recommended," "recommended," or "not recommended."
- A requirement for FTA approval before a project can advance from preliminary engineering to final design (in addition to the existing requirement for approval to initiate preliminary engineering).
- A requirement for FTA to publish regulations on the manner in which proposed projects will be evaluated and rated.
Other important changes include:
Implementation of TEA-21
The majority of the changes to the new starts program noted above will be implemented through the rulemaking process. Under 49 USC §5309(e)(5), as added by TEA-21, FTA is required to publish "regulations on the manner in which [FTA] will evaluate and rate" proposed new starts projects. This rule will define the summary project ratings of "recommended," "highly recommended," and "not recommended," as required by TEA-21, implement the revisions to the multiple measures for project justification, describe how FTA will use the summary ratings to approve entry into preliminary engineering and final design, and discuss the relationship of the project evaluation process to the planning and project development process.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is expected to be issued in early 1999. Following publication in the Federal Register, the NPRM will be open to public comment for a period of 60 days. Public comments will be reviewed and incorporated as appropriate into the Final Rule, which should be published in early Spring.
Due to the fact that the Final Rule has not been published, the project evaluations and funding recommendations for FY 2000 are based on FTA’s existing process, as published in the Federal Register on December 19, 1996 and amended on November 12, 1997 (61 FR 67093-106 & 62 FR 60756-58), modified slightly to account for the increased emphasis on land use by TEA-21 and the prohibition against placing a dollar value on mobility improvements.