Principles for Allocation of Funds

The funding recommendations contained in this report are the result of an extensive project development and evaluation process. All of the projects recommended for funding have completed this process, have been found by FTA to be worthy of a Federal funding commitment based on a comprehensive review of project justification and local financial commitment, and have either been issued FFGAs already or are strong candidates for FFGAs in the coming year.

To be eligible for new starts funding, proposed projects must complete the appropriate steps in the planning and project development process, as described in §§5303-5306 and §5309, and receive a rating of "recommended" or higher in the most recent FTA evaluation.

Planning and Project Development Process

To be eligible for FTA capital investment funds for a new start project, the proposed project must emerge from the metropolitan and/or Statewide planning process. Local officials must perform a corridor-level analysis of mode and alignment alternatives. This alternatives analysis will provide information on the benefits, costs, and impacts of alternative strategies, leading to the selection of a locally-preferred solution to the community's mobility needs. (The FTA/FHWA planning and environmental regulations (23 CFR Parts 450 and 771), which required a Major Investment Study (MIS) that fulfilled the requirement for alternatives analysis, are being revised in accordance with TEA-21.)

When the sponsoring agency for a new start project desires to initiate the preliminary engineering phase of project development, it must submit a request to the appropriate FTA regional office. The request must provide information on the metropolitan and/or Statewide plan that identifies the project, including the adoption of the project into the metropolitan transportation plan and the programming of the preliminary engineering study in the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP). The request must also address the project justification and local financial commitment criteria outlined below. (This information is normally developed as part of an alternatives analysis.) FTA will then evaluate the proposed project as required by 49 USC §5309(e)(6) and determine whether or not to advance the project into preliminary engineering. FTA approval to initiate preliminary engineering is not a commitment to fund final design or construction.

During the preliminary engineering phase, local project sponsors refine the design of the proposal, taking into consideration all reasonable design alternatives. The process results in estimates of project costs, benefits and impacts in which there is a higher degree of confidence. In addition, NEPA requirements are completed (for new starts, this will normally entail the completion of an environmental impact statement), project management concepts are finalized, and any required local funding sources are put in place. Information on project justification and the degree of local financial commitment will be continually updated and reported as appropriate. As part of their preliminary engineering activities, localities are encouraged to consider policies and actions designed to enhance the benefits of the project and its financial feasibility.

Final design is the last phase of project development, and includes right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation, and the preparation of final construction plans (including construction management plans), detailed specifications, construction cost estimates, and bid documents. The final design stage cannot be initiated until environmental requirements have been satisfied, as evidenced by a Record of Decision (ROD) or a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Consistent with 49 USC §5309(e)(6), FTA will approve entry into final design based on the results of the project evaluation process.

The Criteria

As proposed new start projects proceed through the stages of the planning and project development process, they are evaluated against the full range of criteria for project justification and local financial commitment contained in §5309(e). In both cases, FTA relies on a multiple measure approach to assign ratings; these ratings are updated throughout the preliminary engineering and final design processes, as information concerning costs, benefits, and impacts is refined. The results of these evaluations are used to make the required approvals for entry into preliminary engineering and final design, to execute an FFGA, and to make annual funding recommendations to Congress.

While TEA-21 made a number of significant changes to the new starts program, as noted earlier in this report, it left the statutory criteria for project justification and local financial commitment largely intact. Aside from the prohibition against establishing dollar values for mobility improvements, most of the changes to the criteria themselves involved additions to the "considerations" that FTA must take into account when evaluating project justification.

TEA-21 retains the following criteria for evaluating project justification:

Based on the emphasis placed on land use issues by both TEA-21 and the earlier Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), FTA has also established criteria for evaluating transit-supportive existing land use policies and future patterns. Consistent with §5309(e)(3)(H), FTA also includes a variety of "other factors" when evaluating project justification, including a) the degree to which the policies and programs (local transportation planning, programming and parking policies, etc.) are in place as assumed in the forecasts, b) project management capability, and c) additional factors relevant to local and national priorities and relevant to the success of the project.

Section 5309(e)(1)(C) requires that proposed projects also be supported by an acceptable degree of local financial commitment, including evidence of stable and dependable financing sources to construct, maintain and operate the system or extension. Again, TEA-21 retains the basic criteria and the statutory considerations. The only significant revision is that consideration of local funding beyond the required minimum, already an FTA consideration when rating projects, has been incorporated into statute. The criteria for evaluation of the local financial commitment to a proposed project are:

The Evaluations

As noted above, FTA evaluates proposed new start projects against the full range of criteria for both project justification and local financial commitment, using a multiple measure method. Project evaluation is an ongoing process; as proposed new starts proceed through the project development process, information concerning costs, benefits, and impacts is refined, and the ratings updated to reflect new information. However, the ratings reported in this document are final for purposes of the President’s budget request.

For each of the project justification criteria, the proposed new start is evaluated against both a no-build and a Transportation System Management (TSM) alternative (a package of low to moderate cost improvements designed to make more efficient use of an existing transportation system). For each proposed project, FTA assigns one of five descriptive ratings ("high," "medium-high," "medium," "low-medium," or "low") for each of the five criteria, with "other factors" considered as appropriate. The same is true for the three factors used to evaluate local financial commitment.

Perhaps the most significant change to the project evaluation process brought by TEA-21 is the requirement to establish summary ratings for each proposed project. Consistent with §5309(e)(6), summary ratings of "highly recommended," "recommended," or "not recommended" are assigned to each proposed project, based on the results of the review and evaluation of each of the criteria for project justification and local financial commitment. To assign these summary ratings, the individual ratings for each of the financial rating factors and project justification criteria are combined into overall "finance" and "justification" ratings, which in turn are combined to produce the summary ratings.

In evaluating the project justification criteria, FTA gives primary consideration to the measures for transit supportive land use, cost effectiveness, and mobility improvements to arrive at the combined "justification" rating. For local financial commitment, the measures for the proposed local share of capital costs and the strength of the capital and operating financing plans are the primary factors in determining the combined "finance" rating.

For a proposed project to be rated as "recommended," it must be rated at least "medium" in terms of both finance and justification. To be "highly recommended," a proposed project must be rated higher than "medium" for both finance and justification. Proposed projects not rated at least "medium" in both finance and justification will be rated as "not recommended."

These ratings are used both to approve entry into preliminary engineering and final design, as required under §5309(e)(6), and to recommend proposed projects for Federal funding commitments. A proposed project must receive a rating of at least "recommended" in order to be approved for any of these purposes.

The permanent approach FTA will use to assign these summary ratings will be detailed in the upcoming regulation on project evaluation required by TEA-21 and incorporated into 49 USC §5309(e)(5). In the absence of a Final Rule, however, FTA must still use the principles established by TEA-21 to evaluate proposed new starts, assign project ratings, and recommend funding for FY 2000. Therefore, the project ratings and funding recommendations contained in this report reflect an application of FTA’s existing project evaluation 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). The only significant change is that, due to the TEA-21 provision, the value of travel time savings is no longer reported for mobility improvements; instead, travel time savings is reported in terms of hours.

The results of the project evaluation process for the FY 2000 recommendations are reported in Table 1. Ratings are established for proposed projects that are in preliminary engineering and final design only; projects undergoing alternatives analysis typically have not developed sufficient information for meaningful evaluation. Also not listed are projects for which FFGAs have already been issued, as the decision to commit to a project represents the final determination of project justification.

Table 1: Summary of New Start Project Ratings for FY 2000 Budget

Please note that three of the proposed projects listed in Table 1 are listed as "not rated." This is due to the fact that sufficient information was not available to FTA to fairly rate these projects. Because this report represents the first time project sponsors have been asked to submit data for evaluation under the TEA-21 criteria, FTA did not wish to unfairly penalize project sponsors who were unable to develop the requested information in the timeframe needed for this report. In future reports, however, FTA may assign a rating of "not recommended" where sufficient information for project evaluation is not provided.

Appendix A provides a more detailed profile for each project for which an FFGA has been issued, as well as for projects in final design and preliminary engineering. Profiles for projects with FFGAs include a description, status, list of funding sources and map. Profiles for projects in final design and preliminary engineering include a description, status, list of funding sources, map, and a presentation of the project evaluation criteria and ratings. Each of these profiles includes a summary description which highlights the overall project ratings and presents key descriptive, cost and ridership data for each proposed new starts project compared to the no-build alternative.

Appendix B provides a brief description and status for other planning studies and projects which were authorized in Section 3030 of TEA-21, but which have not yet entered preliminary engineering.

It is important to note that a rating of "recommended" does not translate directly into a funding recommendation in any given fiscal year. Rather, the overall project ratings are intended by this proposed rule to reflect overall project merit. Proposed projects that are rated "recommended" or "highly recommended," and have been sufficiently developed for consideration of a Federal funding commitment, will be eligible for funding recommendations in the Administration's proposed budget.

As noted above, project evaluation is an ongoing process. The ratings contained in this report are based on project information available through November 1998. As proposed new starts proceed through the project development process, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans. It must be stressed, however, that the ratings reported in this document are final for purposes of the President’s budget request to Congress, and that any subsequent changes in project ratings will not alter the Administration’s project funding recommendations. Updated project information and ratings will be reviewed as part of the budget development process for the next fiscal year.

For informational purposes, FTA has also included a supplemental analysis of selected new starts criteria and measures. Table 2 presents an analysis of the project evaluation data, factored by the annualized total capital cost, for the following criteria and measures: 1) mobility improvements (measures of the hours of annual travel time savings and the number of low-income households within one-half mile of transit stations); and 2) environmental benefits (measures of annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and annual reduction in regional energy consumption). Data are reported for the comparison of the new start to the no-build and TSM alternatives. Annualization of capital costs is based on a consistent set of assumptions on the useful life of specific cost components, annualization factors, and a 7 percent discount rate. Procedures on the annualization of capital costs are documented in FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria.

Principles for Funding Recommendations

As noted above, the project ratings established by TEA-21 are intended to reflect overall project merit; proposed projects that are rated as "recommended" or higher are eligible for Federal funding. Thus, a rating of "recommended" does not translate directly into a funding recommendation or commitment in any given year. To be recommended for funding in this report, proposed projects rated as "recommended" or "highly recommended" must also be sufficiently developed for consideration of a Federal funding commitment (FFGA).

The following general principles are also applied when determining annual funding allocations among proposed new starts:

Table 2: Supplemental Analysis of New Start Project Ratings