Happy Monday everyone!
It’s the start of a new month, a new week, and our new Monday blog series, “Top 10 Things You Want to Know About Project Development.” Over the next few weeks, Triangle Transit environmental planner Meghan Makoid will be answering the ten questions you may have asked (or should be asking) about the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project. Also the #TransitThursday creator, Meghan has a knack for explaining transit’s technical side and making it relatable as well as easily understood.
Read on for her break down of the information discussed in last Thursday’s light rail post:
1) First of all…why are there SO MANY steps to build a transit project?!
Meghan: Well, we are talking about a MAJOR transit investment! A decision to pursue a major transit investment is not taken lightly by Triangle Transit or the federal government.
Think of this process as similar to when you go to the bank to apply for a mortgage or a construction loan to build a house. Much like the bank, the federal government (represented by the Federal Transit Administration [FTA] for transit projects) wants you to demonstrate that you have what it takes to receive the money. They want to know not only that you have income and good credit in place, but that what you are proposing to do with the money has merit.
Additionally, the federal government needs to know that:
- The project you are proposing has a purpose and that there is a demonstrated need in the community for the project;
- The transit agency identified and evaluated all of the potential effects of the proposed project (both negative and positive on the human and natural environment);
- There is community support for the project;
- The transit agency has what it takes to design, build, operate and maintain the project; and,
- The proposed project rates well in the areas of mobility, cost, congestion relief, land use, economic development and environmental benefits.
Ultimately, by looking at all of these things, the FTA wants the agency to demonstrate that the project is worth investing federal money.
To do this, the federal government requires transit agencies who wish to build a major transit project (like a light rail line) using federal money (called “New Starts” funds) to complete a series of steps. These steps are meant to ensure a “level playing field” and fair competition for the funds between many projects across the nation. All projects are held to the same requirements, must complete the same project phases, must receive federal approval at each of the key decision points, and are evaluated using the same measures – no matter if the project is here in North Carolina, in Hawaii, New York, or Washington State. These milestones are uniform and required of every transit project requesting grant monies under the “New Starts Program” (The steps are outlined in the legislation authorized by Congress, called MAP-21).
2) What are the steps/phases and the major milestones in the “New Starts process”?
Meghan: Project Development, Engineering, and Full Funding Grant Agreement.
The law (called MAP-21) authorizes the money for major transit capital projects (known as “New Starts” grant funding) and establishes the requirements necessary to compete for “New Starts funds.” In order to enter the “New Starts Pipeline” (i.e., the MAP-21 Core Capacity Process) and compete for “New Starts funds,” the transit agency must first “Request Permission to Enter Project Development” from the Federal Transit Administration. This requires the agency to write to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and receive “FTA approval.”
The diagram above illustrates the major phases of the process, key milestones, and decision points at which the federal government grants approval, evaluates, rates, and approves the project. As shown in the diagram above, in order to move forward with the project, the project must achieve each milestone (Project Development, Engineering, and Full Funding Grant Agreement). In order to move forward to the next phase, Triangle Transit must demonstrate the continued merit of the project to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). With each step, the project becomes more and more refined, the competition for the funds gets greater, and the evaluation by the federal government gets more stringent.
Achieving each of these steps is necessary to stay in competition and ultimately to be awarded the funds, which are necessary to build the project. Therefore, each of “New Starts process” steps is equally important and each milestone must be achieved.
3) What is a “Request to Enter Project Development” anyway?
Meghan: Essentially, it is when the transit agency asks the federal government if the proposed transit project has what it takes to officially enter the ring of competition for federal funding. This first step demonstrates that the project meets the minimum requirements outlined by the law. The Federal Transit administration then responds by deeming whether the information provided is sufficient or not. If the information provided demonstrates the proposed project’s merit, then the agency is granted permission to enter the Project Development (PD) phase.
Triangle Transit sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration in December 2013 to request entry into Project Development. After substantial review, the Federal Transit Administration sent a letter to Triangle Transit.