Friday, June 01, 2018

FTA, GAO agree on need for CIG policy enhancements, but not action plan

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A proposed second track for the Indiana South Shore commuter line train is one of the projects seeking funds through the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants program. A proposed second track for the Indiana South Shore commuter line train is one of the projects seeking funds through the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants program. Government Accountability Office

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report recommending the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) address a trio of statutory provisions concerning the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program.

 

The GAO report states that the three areas outlined in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) where FTA has failed to act include:

• Issuing regulations regarding the evaluation and rating process for Core Capacity Improvement projects, which are a category of eligible projects within the program;
• Establishing a program of interrelated projects designed to allow for the simultaneous development of more than one transit project within the CIG program; or
• Implementing a pilot program designed to create a fast-track approval process for transit projects that meet specific statutory criteria.

GAO recommends FTA should initiate a rulemaking regarding the evaluation and rating process for Core Capacity Improvement projects and take steps to address the two other statutory provisions. FTA agreed with the recommendations but disagreed with certain findings on which they are based.

According to the GAO report, FTA officials said "they do not have immediate plans to address these three statutory provisions." GAO says FTA cited the possibility of the CIG program being phased out as reasoning behind the lack of action. The program was provided with more than $2.6 billion as part of the March omnibus spending package.

GAO says that should FTA not implement the outstanding provisions, "FTA and project sponsors... may be missing opportunities to deliver transit projects more efficiently."

In responding to the draft report, FTA said it concurs with the three recommendations and noted that the agency has demonstrated its intent to address the three areas.

FTA says it did update its Policy Guidance in 2016 to ensure it was consistent with what was required of the program in the FAST Act and points to recently executed Full Funding Grant Agreements for Core Capacity projects in California and Illinois as evidence of progress.

Regarding the establishment of a program of interrelated projects, FTA says it has routinely sought input from the transit industry on the subject, but has received little feedback.

FTA further explains that the directive to establish an expedited project delivery pilot program ran into policy roadblocks. When the FAST Act was enacted, FTA said it had received eight applications for the program, but none were eligible under the new rules of the FAST Act. However, the agency notes that the "provisions in the FAST Act allow FTA to carry out the pilot program without the need for issuance of guidance or regulation."

MAP-21 included a provision for GAO to biennially review FTA's implementation of the CIG program, which GAO described as the "primary source of federal financial assistance to support transit projects that are locally planned, implemented, and operated."