New Starts Baseline Alternative Review and Approval Procedures

Step 1: Review set of alternatives at the beginning of the Alternatives Analysis (Major Investment Study-MIS)

This review occurs after the Alternatives Analysis has developed the detailed definitions of the alternatives, but before the technical analysis has begun. FTA will not approve a New Starts baseline alternative at this stage. The FTA action in Step 1 is simply to concur with the alternatives analysis study team that the no-build and Transportation System Management (TSM) alternatives respond to the transportation problems in the corridor, that the policy and land-use setting is unbiased and consistent across the alternatives, and that the alternatives are defined in accordance with good planning practice, and hence, are likely to result in an acceptable New Starts baseline alternative after the technical analysis is complete.

To ensure an adequate baseline is likely to be developed, the no-build will be defined in one of the following ways:

  1. An alternative that incorporates "planned" improvements that are included in the fiscally constrained long-range plan for which need, commitment, financing, and public and political support are identified and are reasonably expected to be implemented.
  2. A conservative definition that adds only "committed" improvements typically those in the annual element of the Transportation Improvement Program or local capital programs together with minor transit service expansions and/or adjustments that reflect a continuation of existing service policies into newly developed areas.

The TSM alternative must be defined as the best that can be done for mobility without constructing a new transit guideway. An acceptable TSM alternative emphasizes transportation system upgrades such as intersection improvements, minor road widening, traffic engineering actions, bus route restructuring, shortened bus headways, expanded use of articulated buses, reserved bus lanes, contra-flow lanes for buses and High Occupancy Vehicles (HOVs) on freeways, special bus ramps on freeways, expanded park/ride facilities, express and limited-stop service, signalization improvements, and timed-transfer operations.

FTA will concur that the set of alternatives defined at the beginning of alternatives analysis are likely to result in an acceptable New Starts baseline alternative. This concurrence will be in the form of a memo or e-mail from the regional office.

Step 2: Alternatives Analysis Sponsor Conducts the Technical Analysis and Finalizes the Alternatives

During the Alternatives Analysis (MIS), the definitions of the alternatives are continually refined as various strategies, system design options, and project elements are tested. The result is a Final Definition of Alternatives and technical planning information about each alternative. The main indicator that confirms a properly defined set of alternatives is the Cost effectiveness of the Build vs. No-build, and the TSM vs. the No-build, which can be calculated from the analysis results. Cost effectiveness can be defined as either cost per new trip or as cost per hour of user benefits. The TSM, by definition, is the most cost-effective alternative relative to the no-build. The study team conducting the Alternatives Analysis (MIS) ensures that a proper TSM is developed that conforms to the following relationships:

For illustrative purposes, assume that the cost-effectiveness indices (CEI) are calculated as follows:

CEI for Build vs. No-Build = A

CEI for TSM vs. No-Build = B

The relationship between these measures should be A > B (higher CEI means the alternative is less cost effective). If this is not the case, the alternative definitions may be incorrect and the project sponsor must go back and define an acceptable TSM alternative to serve as the New Starts baseline. A different ordering is permissible in two cases:

  1. The no-build alternative contains most of the critical elements of a good TSM alternative. In this case, the TSM alternative and the No-build alternative should be functionally indistinguishable. The only time this can happen is when the no-build alternative contains significant TSM-type improvements in the corridor.
  2. The TSM alternative does not make technical sense. For projects where an existing rail line is being rehabilitated or a single-track facility is being upgraded to double track, no TSM alternative is likely to be significantly better than the No-build.

If either case 1) or 2) is apparent, the project sponsor must present evidence to FTA that the TSM alternative should be discarded and the No-Build approved as the baseline.

Step 3. Approve the Baseline Alternative before entry into Preliminary Engineering (PE)

If an acceptable baseline alternative was defined during Alternatives Analysis, FTA will approve of the New Starts baseline in conjunction with the approval to enter Preliminary Engineering.

To make this determination, FTA will review the cost-effectiveness measure of the TSM vs. the no-build alternative to ensure that it is less than the cost effectiveness measure for the build alternative vs. the no-build alternative. The TSM alternative will generally serve as the New Starts Baseline. If the results of the Alternatives Analysis (MIS) show that no cost-effective TSM alternative is possible, FTA may approve the no-build as the New Starts Baseline. If the TSM alternative is poorly defined, entry into PE will be denied until a proper TSM alternative is developed and presented.