To be eligible for FTA capital investment funds for a new starts 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 starts project wishes 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 activity 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 preliminary engineering, 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, requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 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 may include 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.