Monday in Raleigh: FTA forum on federal transit's "New Start"

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Trains a-comin ??
  • Trains a-comin' ??
"New Starts" is the federal transit program that, under the Bush Administration, said "no new start for you" to the Triangle Transit Authority's long-planned commuter-rail system between Durham and Raleigh. That was four years ago. Now, "New Starts" is slated for a new start (couldn't resist) in the Obama regime. A new set of standards, that is, for approving — and funding — or not approving local transit plans.

The difference may be that, under Bush, money for transit was short, and the old FTA didn't want to pay for any projects designed to "shape" future development. Either the transit-level density was on the ground already and ripe for a fixed-guideway (rail) system to go there or it wasn't. No "build it and they will come" projects allowed.

By contrast, the Obama White House, we're told, is: a) anxious to get going on transit in a way that never occurred to the oil-soaked Bushies, and b) well aware that transit-level density may not materialize until the transit is either in place or, at a minimum, approved and coming soon to a station near you.

The latter is what happened with the Lynx (South End) line in Charlotte, of course. No sooner did the project win final approval as a "New Start" than condos and mixed-use developments started coming out of the ground at each of the prospective station sites.

Dense housing around transit stations with mixed-use (retail/office) accoutrements means fewer car trips, less oil burned (or spilled), cleaner air and money saved all around. Which is the aim of the Obama Administration's Livability initiative, an effort to help local governments coordinate their transportation and land use planning via the federal spigots for transit, housing (HUD) and environmental (EPA) programs.

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The TTA is pawing the ground once again, hoping to resurrect some version of its plan (don't call it the old plan) in time for the voters in Wake, Durham and Orange to say yes or no next November (2011). The vote(s) would be on a county-level 1/2-cent sales tax increase to pay for a combination of new rail and bus services. The local money could be a match for state and federal monies, which could include some "New Starts" help.

All this by way of background. Let's turn out next Monday, June 7, 4:30-6:30 pm at the Raleigh Convention Center, and let the FTA know we care. At the same time, we'll hear what the Obama FTA is up to.

“This forum will be a great opportunity to highlight how the livability agenda is evolving within
the FTA,” said Ann Hartell, research associate at the Center for Transportation and the Environment, a
transportation research center housed at the Institute for Transportation Research and Education
ITRE) at North Carolina State University.

A press release from the NCSU Center for Transportation and the Environment, which is hosting a national conference for transportation researchers at the Convention Center June 6-9, follows below.

From NCSU:

FTA Coming to Raleigh to Discuss Policy Changes at Environment and Energy Conference

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will hold a public forum on the near-future proposals
the agency will make regarding how transit projects will be evaluated for federal funding under its New
Starts and Small Starts programs. At the forum, FTA will be seeking input from planners and
environmentalists as the agency begins a public notice-and-comment rulemaking to change the New
Starts regulations. The forum will be held from 4.30 PM to 6.30 PM on Monday, June 7, at the Raleigh
Convention Center. The forum is free and open to all interested parties; registration for the forum is not
required.

As three federal agencies, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), work to align their policies and
programs under the livability initiative, the FTA has taken steps under Secretary of Transportation Ray
LaHood to transform the cost-effectiveness equation used since 2005 to guide funding for New Starts
and Small Starts projects. The new strategy departs from those guidelines, based solely on cost and
time saving attributes, and represents a shift toward greater consideration of environmental impacts
and various social benefits. Two of the criteria that FTA applies to New Starts projects are transitsupportive
land use and environmental benefits. Eligible transit projects include light rail, bus rapid
transit, streetcars, and commuter rail.

“We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it
improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live,” LaHood
was quoted as saying in an FTA press release.

FTA describes the New Starts program as the federal government’s primary financial resource
for supporting locally-planned, implemented, and operated transit guideway capital investments. The
related Small Starts program is designed for lower-cost fixed guideway or bus corridor projects that
can be expedited through the funding process.

“This forum will be a great opportunity to highlight how the livability agenda is evolving within
the FTA,” said Ann Hartell, research associate at the Center for Transportation and the Environment, a
transportation research center housed at the Institute for Transportation Research and Education
ITRE) at North Carolina State University. CTE is one of the partners organizing the conference.

The forum will be held in conjunction with the 2010 Transportation Research Board’s
Environment and Energy Research Conference at the Convention Center June 6-9. The conference
will convene over 500 transportation professionals from across the country to discuss current and
emerging transportation research results.

For more information or to register for the conference, visit:
http://www.cte.ncsu.edu/cte/EEConference/index.asp
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