Five-Year Federal Transportation Bill Could Help Keep Transit Projects Moving
What a relief ― Congress finally passed a federal transportation bill last week, promising five years of much-needed funding for transit projects around the country. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (H.R. 22) was signed into law on Friday by President Obama. The $26 billion allocated for California over the bill’s five-year period, as reported in the Chronicle, means crucial federal funds will continue to support some of San Francisco’s biggest transportation projects underway — Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit and the Central Subway ― as well as new Muni buses and trains.
Delivery of New Flyer Articulated Trolley Coach 7204. Photo taken September 28, 2015.
Congress hasn’t approved a long-term transportation bill since 2005, and has instead passed short-term extensions, which has left these kinds of projects without stable federal funding. In July, Ed Reiskin and Tilly Chang of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority wrote an op-ed stressing the importance of the bill’s passage:
- We are expecting 100,000 new residents and 190,000 new jobs in San Francisco by 2040. Having a predictable source of federal funds is essential to support this growth.
- Transportation investment also sustains and grows jobs at local businesses and provides working families with affordable, convenient travel options.
- Locally we’re doing our part. San Francisco voters approved a half-cent transportation sales tax in 2003 and a $500 million bond for transportation in 2014. More local measures in the coming years could provide additional investment.
- Even with that local investment, we’d still be billions of dollars short of maintaining and building the transportation system San Franciscans need and deserve without enhanced federal support.
"The bill appears to provide increased funding for transit, further some project streamlining provisions of previous bills, and provide for greater local flexibility in street design,” said Reiskin recently. “We’re grateful for Sen. Boxer’s leadership to get this done. One item of unfinished business is finding a sustainable source of revenue for the federal transportation program. This bill funds five years, but without a sustainable path forward."
While the bill does provide for an overall increase in public transportation funding, specifics for San Francisco are unknown as many of the funds are grant-based or will come to us via the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission based on a range of existing formulas.
Some highlights include:
- The FAST Act authorizes $305 billion of funding for surface transportation programs over the next five-years amounting to $61 billion per year. The $305 billion of total funding is composed of $230 billion for highways, $60 billion for public transportation, $10 billion for passenger rail and $5 billion for highway safety programs.
- The FAST Act increases public transit funding from the current level of $10.7 billion to $11.8 billion in FY 2016, representing a 10 percent increase in the first year. Over the five-year time period, funding for public transit steadily rises to $12.6 billion in 2020 representing a 17.8 percent increase. California will receive $1.3 billion of this total amount in FY 2016 and $1.4 billion in FY 2020.
- The Bus and Bus Facilities Program which funds new and replacement buses as well as bus-related equipment and facilities and the Urbanized Area Formula Grants used for transit capital, operating assistance and transportation-related planning both received moderate increases, amounting to a nine percent increase and a 10.5 percent increase, respectively, over the five-year period. Additionally, the FAST Act creates a new $268 million bus and bus facilities competitive grant program which includes a set-aside for low and no-emission buses.
- The FAST Act will fund walking, bicycling and Safe Routes to School projects through the “Surface Transportation Block Grant Program set-aside” for a flat amount of $835 million in 2016 and 2017 and $850 million in the following years – this means more money is available for Vision Zero projects.
- The FAST Act extends funding eligibility for the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) to roadway improvements that provide separation between pedestrians and car including medians and pedestrian crossing islands while eliminating eligibility for behavior, education or enforcement activities to enhance road safety.
- Consistent with our request for more design flexibility, the FAST Act allows local jurisdictions that are direct recipients of federal funds to use roadway design manuals that differ from those used by the state. Specifically, the bill authorizes the application of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Manual which takes a multi-modal approach to street design, facilitating a safe commute for all road users.
- Finally, as we work to achieve our Strategic Plan objective to improve workplace safety and security, we are pleased that Congress included language that requires the Department of Transportation to create a rule to address the growing concern of violence against transit workers and create much needed protections. The rule must consider differences in operating environments and the use of technology to mitigate the risk of driver assaults in addition to several other factors.
We will provide future updates on the implications of the FAST Act for San Francisco and proposed funding allocations as we receive more information from our regional partners.
If you're looking to follow local planning and allocation efforts more closely, the MTC's legislative committee meeting this Friday at 9:05 a.m., available via live streaming, will include a more detailed look at what FAST means for the Bay Area.
The Central Subway's Yerba Buena/Moscone Station site under construction, as seen from a nearby roof. Photo taken October 14, 2015.