New Starts Dear Colleague Letter

Number C-06-04
5/7/2004
Dear Colleague:

The purpose of this letter is to seek your assistance in compiling and reporting information about your proposed major transit capital investment to address the Section 5309 New Starts criteria for the FY 2006 Annual Report on New Starts.  In this report, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) presents project profiles and ratings for all candidate New Starts projects in preliminary engineering and final design, and makes funding recommendations to Congress for the FY 2006 Federal budget. 

As in past years, we are requesting that the specific submittal of the New Starts criteria --- that is, the project justification templates, financial plan, land use information, and other supporting documentation --- be submitted in the late Summer preceding the evaluation of projects for the February publication of the Annual Report on New Starts.  This year, we are requesting such information to be submitted to FTA by August 20, 2004 so that we may complete our review, evaluation, and ratings in a timely manner. 

As you are aware, much of the project justification information provided as part of this submission is based upon the locally-developed travel forecasts produced for the proposed New Starts investment.  FTA strives to ensure that the information that underlies the calculation of criteria such as cost effectiveness and mobility improvements is reliable and adequately represents the anticipated benefits of candidate projects.  Prior year experience has shown that neither FTA nor New Starts project sponsors have had sufficient time to address significant issues related to travel forecasts during the narrow window of time afforded for the annual evaluation of projects; this, in turn, has resulted in several “Not Rated” projects over the past two years.   We wish to avoid this situation for the FY 2006 evaluations, and request that travel forecasting information (including Summit software reports and maps) and the “Making the Case” document for each non-exempt project in preliminary engineering or final design be submitted to FTA by June 30, 2004.  FTA strongly believes that this advanced submission will allow for the necessary time to adequately review these important materials, as well as resolve any potential issues that may arise.  Failure to submit Summit reports and maps and the “Making the Case” document by June 30 may result in a “Not Rated” or “Not Recommended” rating should information received later contain errors or raise questions that cannot be adequately addressed during the period that FTA is engaged in the formal evaluation of New Starts projects.

FTA is posting updated Reporting Instructions for the Section 5309 New Starts Criteria (April 2004) website on its Major Investment Project Planning and Development page. These updated Reporting Instructions are essentially the same as the Reporting Instructions dated July 2003.  No changes to the evaluation measures or ratings process have been made.  However, the Reporting Instructions have been reformatted for easier use and include further clarification and guidance on improving the reporting of measures and criteria.  Specifically, the Reporting Instructions feature the following enhancements:
· The guidance has been rearranged to make it more user-friendly.  Each reporting template is discussed in order, with instructions for completing the template, key assumptions, and data needs.  In addition, quality control checks have been provided for each template and other information submitted to FTA.
· Clarification has been provided on what templates and information are required from exempt New Starts projects (those requesting less than $25 million in New Starts funds) versus non-exempt projects.  FTA notes that even projects that are exempt from the New Starts criteria must provide FTA with basic information that describes and justifies the proposed investment.
· Additional guidance has been provided on developing the “Making the Case” document.
· Additional guidance has been provided on what Summit software reports and maps must be provided with the submittal.  FTA is requesting that these reports and maps be submitted both electronically and in hardcopy.
· Additional guidance has been added on the optional submission of information related to the anticipated economic benefits of proposed New Starts projects.
Similar to last year, the Reporting Instructions also include an appendix that summarizes the New Starts evaluation process, including the procedures, weights, and measures that FTA uses when developing its ratings.  In addition, two documents containing the guidelines and standards for FTA’s assessment of local financial commitment and land use, which provide further detail on how ratings are developed, will be posted on FTA’s website by late May 2004.  I encourage you to review these helpful documents to gain a better understanding of how FTA evaluates candidate New Starts projects, and how you can take steps to improve the ratings of your proposed New Starts investment.

FTA Regional Offices and the FTA Office of Planning and Environment will work with you to complete each of the following items required for the FY 2006 Annual Report on New Starts. 

- Information on Travel Forecasts and New Starts Criteria:  Information and data supporting the development of the New Starts criteria, and the criteria themselves, should be submitted to your FTA Regional Office and to Sean Libberton, Acting Chief, Planning Analysis Division in the FTA Office of Planning and Environment, TPE-22, Room 9413, 400 7th St., S.W., Washington, DC 20590 by the dates specified above.  Please review the updated Reporting Instructions to ensure the submittals contain all required elements.

- Assessment of Transit Supportive Land Use:  You will be contacted directly by an FTA-designated contractor shortly after August 20, 2004.  You will be asked to provide the contractor with a copy of the project description template, the land use criteria reporting templates, and any other detailed information and supporting documentation related to your land use assessment.  New Starts project sponsors need only submit new information, or information that has changed since their last submittal.  Please reference previously submitted materials in your response to this request, and highlight on the land use criteria templates any new information added since the last submittal.

- Assessment of Local Financial Commitment:  You will be contacted directly by an FTA-designated contractor shortly after August 20, 2004.  You will be asked to provide the contractor with a copy of the project description template, the financial criteria reporting templates, an agency-wide 20-year cash flow analysis, and other detailed information and supporting documentation related to your financial assessment.  This supporting documentation should include the most recent audited financial statement, updated fleet management plans if applicable, the most recent bonding prospectus if applicable, as well as correspondence or other documentation of funding commitments.  FTA’s Guidance on Transit Financial Plans dated June 2000, provides an outline and format for the financial plan and includes a list of supporting documentation requested by FTA.  This document can be found here. You should provide any updated documents and recent information on the financial condition of the agency and project, but are not required to resubmit background documentation previously provided.  Please reference such previously submitted materials in your response to this request.

It is important to note that the ratings assigned by FTA for each of the measures are directly related to the ability of reviewers to readily identify and assess the submitted information.  FTA’s evaluation of proposed New Starts projects is based on the information project sponsors provide to FTA.  Consequently, a well-organized and concise submittal of this information to FTA and its contractors is to your benefit.

FTA staff will assist you in the reporting of the New Starts criteria for the FY 2006 Annual Report on New Starts.  Please direct any questions regarding the contents of this letter or the Reporting Instructions to Sean Libberton, Acting Chief, Planning Analysis Division at (202) 366-5112 or sean.libberton@dot.gov, or to your New Starts Coordinator.

Thank you for your time and assistance in addressing this request.  We look forward to working with you and your staff to ensure that your proposed New Starts project is presented accurately in the upcoming FY 2006 Annual Report on New Starts.  

Sincerely,
 
Lynn Sahaj
Acting  Associate Administrator for
Planning and Environment

 

Enclosures
cc:    FTA Regional Administrators