Obama Administration Proposes Major Public Transportation Policy Shift to Highlight Livability

via the Federal Transit Administration

Changes Include Economic Development and Environmental Benefits

In a dramatic change from existing policy, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today proposed that new funding guidelines for major transit projects be based on livability issues such as economic development opportunities and environmental benefits, in addition to cost and time saved, which are currently the primary criteria.

In remarks at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting, the Secretary announced the Obama Administration’s plans to change how projects are selected to receive federal financial assistance in the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New Starts and Small Starts programs.  As part of this initiative, the FTA will immediately rescind budget restrictions issued by the Bush Administration in March of 2005 that focused primarily on how much a project shortened commute times in comparison to its cost.

“Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it,” said Secretary LaHood.  “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.”

The change will apply to how the Federal Transit Administration evaluates major transit projects going forward.  In making funding decisions, the FTA will now evaluate the environmental, community and economic development benefits provided by transit projects, as well as the congestion relief benefits from such projects.

“This new approach will help us do a much better job of aligning our priorities and values with our transit investments” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff.  “No longer will we ignore the many benefits that accrue to our environment and our communities when we build or expand rail and bus rapid transit systems.”

FTA will soon initiate a separate rulemaking process, inviting public comment on ways to appropriately measure all the benefits that result from such investments.

Obama Administration Holds Up Oakland Airport Connector Stimulus Funds Over Civil Rights Complaint

Via the Urban Habitat Newsletter:

Obama Administration Holds Up Oakland Airport Connector Stimulus Funds over Civil Rights Complaint!

We need your help to cement this victory. Please join us at:

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) meeting on Wednesday, January 27th at 10am. 101 Eighth Street, Oakland, CA

Federal Transit Administration says BART plan “insufficient.. on many fronts”

Allies- Today marks a huge victory for transit riders, workers and tax payers. The Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) has informed BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) that the agencies have put at risk $70 million in stimulus funding currently allocated to the controversial Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) project. The action, the first of its kind in the nation, comes as a result of a complaint filed last Fall by nonprofit law firm Public Advocates Inc. on behalf of Urban Habitat, TransForm and Genesis, charging BART with failing to comply with federal civil rights obligations.

This decision forces the hand of the MTC to either cancel the project or to go double or nothing and bet $70 million on the chance that BART can prove that the project will not unduly impact low-income people and people of color. While it remains to be seen how MTC will react to this situation, it nonetheless a huge win for transit riders. Even if the project moves forward, our work over the past year, and the FTA’s ruling has sent a strong message that the days of steamrolling mega projects over communities of color are waning.

Demand Equity in Transportation Funding at the next MTC Meeting

While this victory speaks to the hard work that we all have been putting into stopping the project, it also underscores the need to continue to fight to make sure that stimulus money serves transit riders and preserves transit jobs. Next Wednesday, the 27th at 10am, the MTC board will discuss how to spend the anticipated next round of federal stimulus money. We need to bring a strong contingent to this meeting to demand that this money be used to stop fare hikes, services cuts, and layoffs rather than financing boondoggle projects like the OAC.

This morning, BART called a press conference, desperate to assure the Bay Area that the letter is just an administrative hiccup. Looking visibly shaken, BART spokespeople asserted once more their belief that the project will go forward despite the opposition.
“BART’s and MTC’s claims that these are “last minute requirements” are disingenuous,” said Bob Allen of Urban Habitat. “The fact is that both agencies ignored repeated warnings from the community and advocates to look at community consequences and project alternatives. What’s worse is that they falsely certified to the federal government that they had done what is necessary. Now their failure to follow the rules has put these funds at risk.”

MTC and BART Put $70M at Risk by Cutting Corners on Civil Rights

By federal law, FTA must redistribute to other regions any money that is not obligated on March 5, 2010, unless FTA determines that BART has met all requirements for the OAC project by that date or MTC reallocates it to eligible uses, such as increased transit service on existing bus lines. FTA’s letter makes it clear that trying to complete a required equity analysis in an effort to continue to allocate these funds to BART’s half-billion dollar OAC project by March 5 carries very significant risks.

“FTA is telling MTC and BART that the $70 million in stimulus funding will be taken away from the Bay Area unless MTC promptly reallocates it,” said Richard Marcantonio of Public Advocates Inc. “We call on MTC to shift the money to Plan B: preserving existing transit service as it promised it would do last February.”

“The OAC project is a poster child for bad regional planning,” said John Knox White from Transform. “By its failure to use common sense, do due diligence or respond to community concerns, BART has created a money-wasting half-million dollar boondoggle. MTC is complicit in failing to provide the required oversight of BART, and in causing massive transit cuts, fare hikes and pink slips that this funding could have prevented. It calls both agencies’ leadership and accountability into question.”

See also:

FTA letter to MTC and BART 1-15-10

A Chronology of the Connector

FTA Complaint

Audio from BART Press Conference