Funding for Preliminary Engineering

TEA-21 established a new provision limiting the amount of §5309 funds that can be used for purposes other than final design and construction to 8 percent of total annual new starts funds. For FY 2000, this amounts to $78.43 million that can be used for planning and preliminary engineering purposes.

The Administration’s FY 2000 budget recommends specific allocations for four proposed projects, totaling $32.00 million. Based on current information, these projects are among the strongest candidates in the new starts pipeline, based on the project ratings and degree of development. Sponsors of other projects are eligible to apply for the remaining $46.43 million for preliminary engineering purposes. (While alternatives analysis is technically eligible for these funds under TEA-21, these activities are more appropriately funded under the §5303 Metropolitan Planning or §5307 Urbanized Area Formula Grants programs.)

Baltimore/Central Corridor LRT Double Track

The Maryland Mass Transit Administration plans to construct 9.4 miles of track to upgrade designated areas of the Baltimore Central Light Rail Line (CLRL) that are currently single track. The CLRL is 29 miles long and operates from Hunt Valley in the north to Cromwell/Glen Burnie in the south, serving Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties, with extensions providing direct service to the Amtrak Penn Station and the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The existing system was funded entirely with local resources.

The proposed project will double-track eight sections of the CLRL between Timonium and Cromwell Station/Glen Burnie, for a total of 9.4 miles. Although no new stations are required, the addition of a second track will require construction of second station platforms at four stations where side boarding platforms are now in use. Other elements included in the project are bridges and crossings, a bi-directional signal system with traffic signal preemption on Howard Street, and catenary and other equipment and systems. The double tracking will be constructed almost entirely in existing right-of-way. MTA estimates the total cost of the double-tracking and related improvements at $150.00 million. MTA estimates that this project will increase ridership by 6,750 new riders daily by 2020.

The original Central Corridor Light Rail Line began operations as single track in 1992-1993. MTA completed a study examining the feasibility, environmental impacts and benefits of double tracking eight sections. The double track project was adopted by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and included in its financially constrained long range plan in 1993.

The preliminary engineering and environmental phase for the Southern segment, Cromwell Station to Hamburg Street, is expected to be completed by Spring 1999, and a Record of Decision (ROD) could be issued by Summer 1999. For the Northern segment, North Avenue to Timonium, preliminary engineering should be completed in late 1999 or early 2000, with a ROD by Spring 2000.

Section 3030(a)(42) of TEA-21 authorizes the "Maryland – Light Rail Double Track" for final design and construction. Congress allocated $992,550 for this project in the FY 1999 appropriations.

The CLRL double track project has been rated medium for finance and medium-high for justification, based on FTA’s evaluation under §5309(e). This results in an overall project rating of "recommended." These ratings are based on data for the entire 29-mile system, including the proposed upgrades. In order to further the development of this project, FTA recommends that $8.00 million be provided in FY 2000.

Minneapolis/Hiawatha Corridor Transitway

Metro Transit of Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Metropolitan Council, in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and Hennepin County, are proposing to design and construct a 12.2-mile light rail line linking downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) International Airport, and the Mall of America in Bloomington. This system is the transit component of a multimodal transportation plan for the Hiawatha Avenue/Trunk Highway 55 Corridor, which also includes highway reconstruction activities.

The estimated capital cost for the 12.2-mile Hiawatha Avenue LRT, including 18 proposed stations, totals $446.00 million ($1997). The project is expected to serve an average of 24,800 weekday riders by the year 2020, with 19,300 daily riders projected in the opening year.

A Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), including a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor, was completed in February 1985. The preferred alternative documented in the 1985 FEIS included the reconstruction of the roadway to a four-lane, divided at-grade arterial, with an LRT line adjacent to the roadway and extending north to the Minneapolis CBD and south to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. MetroTransit is currently completing a re-evaluation of the 1985 FEIS, scheduled to be completed in early 1999. The FEIS re-evaluation will include updated cost and ridership estimates, a final route alignment in the downtown Minneapolis portion of the project, and alignment options at the airport as well as options for service south to Bloomington. The Hiawatha Avenue LRT is included in the region’s 1997-2000 Transportation Improvement Program.

Section 3030(a)(91) of TEA-21 authorized the "Twin Cities – Transitway Corridors" for final design and construction. Through FY 1998, Congress appropriated a total of $11.96 million in §5309 new starts funds for the "Twin Cities Transitways" project, which includes the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor. An additional $16.87 million was provided in FY 1999, bringing the total amount of §5309 new starts funds appropriated for this project to $28.83 million.

The Hiawatha Corridor Transitway project has been rated medium for project justification and medium-high for finance, based on FTA’s evaluation under §5309(e). This results in an overall project rating of "recommended." In order to further the development of this project, FTA recommends that $8.00 million be provided in FY 2000.

Raleigh-Durham/Research Triangle Regional Rail

The Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) in Raleigh, North Carolina is planning a regional commuter rail system that will link the three counties – Wake, Durham, and Orange – in the Triangle Region of North Carolina. TTA plans to implement this system in three phases. Phase I is a 35-mile, 16-station line between the cities of Raleigh and Durham, which will follow existing North Carolina Railroad and CSX rail corridors to connect Duke University, downtown Durham, Research Triangle Park, RDU Airport, Morrisville, Cary, North Carolina State University, downtown Raleigh, and North Raleigh. TTA proposes to use diesel multiple unit (DMU) rail vehicles to provide service on this corridor. Projected ridership for Phase I is estimated at 14,000 riders a day by the year 2020. The capital cost estimate for Phase I totals $284.00 million; this includes final design activities, acquisition of right-of-way and rail vehicles, station construction, park and ride lots, and construction of storage and maintenance facilities.

The Regional Rail system emerged from the local planning process as the result of TTA’s Triangle Fixed Guideway Study, which was completed in 1995. The Authority's Board of Trustees has adopted the study's recommendations to put into place a regional rail system, and resolutions of support have been received from all major units of local government, chambers of commerce, universities, and major employers in the Triangle. The two metropolitan planning organizations within whose jurisdiction the rail service will operate have incorporated the study recommendations into their fiscally constrained long- range plans. Phase I of the regional rail project is included in the two local 1998-2004 TIPs and the STIP. FTA approved Phase I for entry into preliminary engineering in January 1998, and TTA initiated the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement. Negotiations with the railroads for access and station location planning are underway. TTA expects to complete preliminary engineering and obtain a Record of Decision on the EIS by January 2000.

Section 3030(a)(68) of TEA-21 authorized the "Raleigh-Durham Regional Transit Plan" for final design and construction. Through FY 1999, Congress has appropriated $23.88 million in §5309 new starts funds for this project.

Phase I of the Research Triangle Regional Rail project has been rated medium for both project justification and finance, based on FTA’s evaluation under §5309(e). This results in an overall project rating of "recommended." In order to further the development of this project, FTA recommends that $8.00 million be provided in FY 2000.

Seattle/Link LRT

The Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) is planning a 23-mile Central Link light rail transit (LRT) project running north to south from Northgate, through downtown Seattle, Southeast Seattle and the cities of Tukwila and SeaTac. At least 21 stations are planned, with six additional stations along the corridor under consideration. The system would connect with and operate through the existing 1.6- mile Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Sound Transit estimates a total of 155,000 daily riders, including 57,000 new riders, on the system in 2020. Capital costs for the entire project are $2.9 billion; Sound Transit plans to seek §5309 new starts funding for 50 percent of the capital costs. Sound Transit may consider breaking the system into minimum operable segments as a means to implement the project.

The Link LRT system is one element of Sound Transit's voter-approved ten year, $3.914 billion Sound Move regional transit plan, which also includes a 2-mile light rail line in downtown Tacoma; an 82-mile commuter rail system operating between Lakewood and Everett (the Sounder); 20 new regional express bus routes; 14 High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) direct access ramps (providing access to over 100 miles of existing HOV lanes); 14 new park and ride lots and 9 transit centers; and other service improvements.

The RTA Board adopted the Sound Move regional transit plan in May 1996. Voters approved $3.914 billion in local funding for implementation of the plan in November 1996. A Major Investment Study of Sound Move's services was completed in March 1997. Sound Move is included in the Puget Sound Regional Council's (the area's MPO) Transportation Plan and Regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). FTA approved initiation of preliminary engineering on the Link LRT in July 1997.

The Seattle Sound Move Corridor, of which Link is one element, was authorized for final design and construction by Section 3030(a)(85) of TEA-21. Through FY 1998, Congress has appropriated $20.92 million in §5309 new starts funds for Sound Move, of which Sound Transit has allocated $11.95 million to this project. An additional $4.96 million was appropriated for the Link LRT in FY 1999.

The Link LRT has been rated high for finance and medium-high for project justification, based on FTA’s evaluation under §5309(e). This results in an overall project rating of "highly recommended." These ratings are based on data submitted by Sound Transit for the entire 23-mile planned system; while segmentation of the $2.9 billion project is under consideration, no segment-level data has been submitted to FTA. In order to further the development of this project, FTA recommends that $8.00 million be provided in FY 2000.

Other Projects in Preliminary Engineering

After accounting for the $32.00 million specifically recommended for the projects described above, a total of $46.43 million remains from the $78.43 million requested for preliminary engineering in FY 2000. These funds will be made available to other project sponsors for preliminary engineering activities. Funds will be allocated based on FTA’s review of funding applications submitted by project sponsors, and the results of evaluations under the project justification criteria and local financial commitment factors described earlier in this report. A complete list of all proposed projects currently in preliminary engineering can be found in Table 3. Proposed projects currently undergoing alternatives analysis but which are approved to enter preliminary engineering by the end of FY 2000 will also be eligible for these funds. FTA will inform Congress as projects are approved for entry into preliminary engineering.