Annual Report on New Starts--Proposed Allocations of Funds for Fiscal Year 2004

Number C-02-03
2/3/2003

U.S. Department
of Transportation
Federal Transit
Administration

Administrator

400 Seventh St. S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Colleague:

I am pleased to provide you the Federal Transit Administrationís 2003 Annual Report on New Starts. This report makes recommendations for the allocation of funds for new fixed guideway systems and extensions to existing fixed guideway systems, also known as "New Starts," for Fiscal Year (FY) 2004. It is a collateral document to the Presidentís annual budget submission to Congress.

With the strong foundation provided by Congress and technical assistance and oversight by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), New Starts grantees engage in one of the most rigorous financial planning, project development, and engineering processes in government. The FY 2004 budget recommendation includes funding for 26 existing, pending, and proposed Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGAs), which are multi-year contractual agreements between FTA and project sponsors. Located in every geographic area of the country and in cities of all sizes, these projects include commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail, and bus rapid transit. When complete, they will carry over 190 million riders annually, save over 61 million hours in travel time, and significantly improve air quality and mobility in America.

The Annual New Starts Report also provides a snapshot of each project in development. In addition to providing information to Congress, it serves as guidance to project sponsors, so that improvements can be made. Since projects can be expected to continue to change as they progress through the development process, the ratings for projects that are not yet recommended for full funding grant agreements should not be construed as a statement about the ultimate merits of the project, but, rather, an assessment of the projectís current strengths and weaknesses.

Improvements in the 2003 Annual New Starts Report

The ratings presented in the 2003 Annual Report on New Starts reflect a new measure of project benefits aimed at quantifying travel-time savings for all users of the proposed project (both existing riders and new riders). "Transportation System User Benefits" captures a broader set of benefits to transit riders Ė including reductions in walk times, wait times, ride times, and number of transfers Ė in terms of savings in travel time. This measure replaces two measures previously used: hours of travel time savings for existing transit trips in the calculation of mobility benefits; and the number of new transit trips in the calculation of cost-effectiveness.

The new measure of user benefits was adopted as part of the December 7, 2000, Final Rule on Major Capital Investment Projects. The measure was developed in response to numerous comments from project sponsors and local decision makers for a measure that would more appropriately reflect the benefits of a proposed New Starts project. The new measure and the calculations required have been discussed with transit agencies that are already in the New Starts development process, as well as those contemplating project development, at New Starts Roundtables and a variety of other forums. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible, FTA delayed the original implementation date for this measure from September 2001 until September 2002. FTA also developed software to generate the necessary data from each sponsorís local forecasting model, and engaged a contractor to assist project sponsors in implementation.

You will note that several transit agencies have not yet submitted the required data, in most cases because they have just entered the first project development phase that requires a rating and time did not permit the necessary work to be completed. The ratings for these projects are listed as "Not Yet Available." A number of other agencies submitted information that raises questions about the validity of their ridership and travel-time savings projections. FTA has contacted and continues to work with these agencies to help them develop valid assumptions, information, and projections for their projects. Such projects have been listed as "Not Rated" for the cost-effectiveness and mobility improvements measures in this report. Revised ratings for those agencies that have not been rated or that did not submit data will be made available to Congress and other interested parties as these cases are resolved.

FTA continues to encourage project sponsors to fund New Starts projects with the highest possible local share. The Conference Report that accompanied the FY 2002 Department of Transportation Appropriations Act requests "FTA not to sign any new full funding grant agreements after September 30, 2002, that have a Federal share of higher than 60 percent." Consistent with this Congressional request, projects seeking a Federal New Starts share over 60 percent have been given a "low" rating for local financial commitment, which results in a "Not Recommended" rating overall. In addition, the Administration is seeking legislation that would limit the Federal New Starts share to no more than 50 percent beginning in FY 2004. The four new projects recommended for funding in the Presidentís FY 2004 budget have been advised that a maximum 50 percent Federal New Starts share may be required.

Funding Recommendations

Of the current 29 existing and pending FFGAs included in this report, 22 are recommended for funding in FY 2004. There are seven current FFGAs for which additional funding will not be required in FY 2004, assuming that the FY 2003 appropriation provides the amount requested by the President for each project. In addition to the current and pending FFGAs, FTA proposes that the following four additional projects be considered for multiyear funding commitments (FFGAs) in FY 2004:

Chicago Ravenswood Line Expansion

Located in the seventh fastest growing metropolitan area in the country, the Chicago Ravenswood Line Expansion will reconstruct and expand the existing Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Brown Line that extends from the north side of Chicago to the "elevated loop" in downtown Chicago. One of the busiest transit lines in the country, it serves more than 90,000 households and 80,000 jobs within one-half mile of the stations. The improved segment is expected to serve 6.7 million riders annually. This project is currently "Not Rated," but FTA believes that the remaining issues will be resolved soon and that the project will merit a "Recommended" rating.

Las Vegas Resort Corridor Fixed Guideway Minimum Operable Segment (MOS)

As a monorail system located in the fastest growing city in the country, this project will serve the Las Vegas "Strip," which employs an estimated 235,000 people and draws 33 million tourists annually. It is projected to carry more than 38,000 riders daily. The project will leverage Federal dollars to improve mobility in the area by connecting to a privately funded monorail system that is currently under construction. Serving the northern-most portion of the Las Vegas Strip, it will significantly improve access to downtown Las Vegas for commuters and tourists.

New York East Side Access

The New York East Side Access project will increase tunnel capacity for the commuter rail lines of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) under the East River, increase flexibility at New Yorkís Penn Station, and add a new passenger terminal in Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. The New York East Side Access project will benefit approximately 167,000 daily LIRR riders, as well as the 161,000 people who currently use Penn Station each day. With an estimated 575,000 jobs and 34,600 households located within one-half mile of the proposed stations, this project is expected to ease congestion and significantly shorten travel time for LIRR customers who use the Nation's largest commuter rail system.

Seattle Central Link LRT

Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) is proposing a 24-mile Central Link light rail transit (LRT) line running north to south from Northgate, through downtown Seattle and Southeast Seattle to the cities of Tukwila and SeaTac, Washington. The system will operate on existing and new right-of-way, including the existing 1.3-mile Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Sound Transit plans to construct the entire system in phases. In the fall of 2001, the Sound Transit Board voted to implement the initial segment, know as the Central Link Initial Segment, a 14-mile, 11-station LRT line extending from Convention Place through downtown Seattle and terminating at South 154th Station. The system is forecast to have 42,500 average weekday boardings in 2020, including 29,000 new riders daily.

In addition to the projects proposed for new FFGAs and funding in FY 2004, the enclosed report includes information on the 52 projects in the New Starts "pipeline" that are in preliminary engineering or final design. These projects are located in 28 states and Puerto Rico, and in cities of all sizes, with populations from over five million to less than 500,000. Spanning every means of public transportation service, from ferry boats to commuter rail to light rail to bus rapid transit, these projects can be expected to significantly enhance our Nationís public transportation network in the years to come.

Sincerely,

Jennifer L. Dorn