Funding Transportation in New York

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12/2/2011

REMARKS FOR
THERESE MCMILLAN, FTA
FUNDING TRANSPORTATION IN NEW YORK

As Prepared for Delivery

I’m delighted to join you today to highlight the Obama Administration’s commitment to help New York, and the nation, build the transportation infrastructure we need and deserve in order to compete with the rest of the world -- and get our economy back on track.

We are well aware that we face a crisis in this country. Our citizens are struggling. Our transportation systems are overburdened and fast becoming obsolete. And, to be honest, as Secretary LaHood himself has observed, our politics are so broken that we can’t connect the people who need work with the work that needs to be done.

And yet, we at FTA, and everyone in this Administration, will not be deterred.

And we will not give up.

We refuse to let political gridlock, or a climate of shrinking expectations, keep us from helping cities like New York design a future where people have more transportation choices – not less. . . and where efforts to reduce congestion, reduce oil consumption, and improve air quality are a reality – not simply a hope.

Now more than ever, our government needs to be a catalyst promoting growth, jobs, and 21st century infrastructure.

That’s why, this fiscal year alone, the FTA has obligated over $1.5 billion in grants to help modernize and transform public transportation throughout New York State.

That’s why there’s an additional $1.2 billion of federal funds in the pipeline this year for statewide transportation needs that also reflect local priorities, and nearly $168 million awarded for discretionary projects in Buffalo, Rochester, East New York, and elsewhere.

Over the last two fiscal years, we’ve delivered over $230 million to help seven of New York’s key transit agencies begin to tackle one of the nation’s largest maintenance and repair backlogs.

That’s a down-payment on new clean-fuel buses, energy-efficient facilities, and many other critical needs.

We’ve also helping New York give the Fordham Transit Plaza a modern make-over and embark on the Fulton Street Transit Center rehab.

And of course, we continue to support three of the largest, most complex capital transit projects in the country—New York’s East Side Access, the Second Avenue Subway, and the World Trade Center transportation hub.

All these investments, and more, generate thousands of good-paying jobs for New Yorkers, at a time when these jobs are needed most.

But as well all know, it’s simply not enough.

As you’ve already heard today, we need a new paradigm to develop, build, and maintain not only New York’s transportation systems, but all the systems of regional and national significance across the country.

We can’t meet our massive infrastructure needs with just one color of money.

We need the private sector at the table with us, along with our state and local partners.

And we need bold, creative financing mechanisms that increase our appetite for responsible risk and encourage us to go after the very large, capital-intensive, game-changing projects that have traditionally defined us as a nation.

You’re here today to talk about how this can be accomplished.

Let me add a few ideas to the discussion.

Our approach is straightforward:

We’re interested in working with all our partners, public and private, to expand the toolkit available to them – while empowering local decision makers as much as possible.

We think that the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act---TIFIA-- belongs in the toolkit.

TIFIA, as you may know, provides federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and other mechanisms to finance big infrastructure projects.

We estimate that every $100 million of TIFIA credit leverages roughly $1 billion in additional lending capacity.

It’s worked for highways. We’re confident it can work for transit, too – as Denver, San Francisco, and others are discovering. And it worked for the Staten Island Ferry renovation some years back.

We’re hopeful that under the right circumstances, New York can tap this resource again.

Please be aware that the door is still wide open for TIFIA applications.

DOT has $110 million in loan funds available for the 2012 funding cycle for good highway, passenger rail, transit, intermodal, and intelligent transportation system projects. As I noted, these funds will leverage ten times more in additional loan capacity.

Project sponsors have until December 30th to submit a letter of interest, as outlined in the Federal Register.

This is a highly competitive program – and DOT routinely receives far more funding requests than it can meet.

In 2011 alone, DOT received requests for $14 billion in credit assistance – more than ten times the amount actually available.

President Obama recognizes the need for leadership in this area.

That’s why he has proposed to fund a National Infrastructure Bank -- $30 billion over six years – to support a combination of grants and TIFIA-type loans and lines of credit.

If we’re serious about building transportation projects of regional and national significance – projects that are simply too big and too expensive for a single entity to bear -- this is the way to go.

And if we’re serious about continuing to leverage taxpayer dollars wisely, this approach will bring more local dollars back into local communities, for projects that people care about the most.

We also continue to support the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program, which allows FTA and the FRA to jointly administer up to $35 billion in direct loans and loan guarantees to improve intermodal and freight rail facilities.

Now, there’s one other tool I want to mention.

This tool isn’t about money. It’s about people.

Without access to education, training, apprenticeships, mentors, and start-up business capital – well, all the capital and operating investments we are making in our transport systems won’t take us where we need to go.

We need skilled people to design systems, build them, operate and maintain them. Workforce development and business opportunity programs are essential to making our dollar investments work “on the ground.”

I’m glad to see that a discussion of minority and women-owned businesses is on your agenda today.

This is an issue we care deeply about at DOT.

In fact, earlier this year, we implemented a new rule to help DBEs compete more effective on federally funded transportation contracts in four key areas:

One – by making it easier for certified DBE firms to compete in different states without needing to get recertified.

Two – by adjusting the personal net worth cap upwards, from $750,000 to $1.3 million, so more DBE entrepreneurs qualify to compete.

Three – by requiring state and local transportation agencies to include DBEs in their spending plans.

And four – by encouraging new tools to foster small business participation, such as unbundling large contracts and establishing race-neutral small-business set-asides.

Our goal is to open up the federal contracting process to everyone—and create a more level playing field for small businesses that put people to work.

We’re also deeply committed to developing the workforce of tomorrow.

Over the summer, we launched an innovative workforce development initiative to target pilot programs around the country that train, hire, develop, and retain transit workers.

We need a knowledgeable workforce in this country – and it isn’t going to happen if we don’t make it happen.

FTA has invested $3 million in this initiative.

These funds will support programs in New Orleans and Denver that train new workers for jobs in the transit industry.

It supports vocational programs in Massachusetts and New Jersey that prepare high school and college students for careers in transit.

It includes leadership training at transit agencies in New York, California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Yes, we need TIFIA. We need an I-Bank. We need public-private partnerships.

But above all, we need a government and an economy that invests in people.

We’ve made it our mission at FTA, and across DOT, to do both.

In closing, let’s remember that there’s no such thing as a Democratic or Republican bridge or rail line.

Our infrastructure belongs to all of us.

As President Obama said recently,

“We’re fighting back. We are moving forward. And we are going to get this right so that every single American has an opportunity in this country.”

Thank you.

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