Introduction

This report provides the U.S. Department of Transportation's recommendations to Congress for allocation of funds to be made available under 49 U.S.C. §5309 for construction of new fixed guideway systems and extensions (major capital investments or "new starts") for Fiscal Year 2000. Section 5309(o)(1) requires an annual report to Congress "that includes a proposal on the allocation of amounts to be made available to finance grants and loans for capital projects for new fixed guideway systems and extensions to existing fixed guideway systems among applicants for those amounts."

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:

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:

Other important changes include:

  • A provision expressly prohibiting FTA from considering the dollar value of mobility improvements.
  • The elimination of the exemptions from the project evaluation process for proposed projects that require less than one-third of the project funding from 49 USC §5309 or are part of a State Improvement Plan for air quality. The exemption remains for projects requiring less than $25 million in 49 USC §5309 funding. (Projects for which FFGAs are already in place are not subject to re-evaluation.)
  • For evaluating local financial commitment, the consideration of local funding beyond the required non-Federal share has been incorporated into statute.
  • A second annual report to Congress, in addition to the existing "report on funding levels and allocations of funds," is now required. This new "Supplemental Report on New Starts," due each August, will include updated ratings for projects that have completed the alternatives analysis and preliminary engineering stages of development since the date of the last Annual Report on New Starts.
  • A provision limiting the amount of funds made available every year for proposed projects in alternatives analysis or preliminary engineering to 8 percent of total new starts funding for that year.
  • A requirement for an annual review of FTA’s project evaluation and rating process and procedures by the General Accounting Office.

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.