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APTA Rail Conference - 2019


2019 APTA Rail Conference – Toronto, ON, Canada
Remarks of Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good afternoon. Thank you, Paul [Skoutelas, APTA President/CEO]. It’s a pleasure to be with you today to continue to advance the productive partnership between the Federal Transit Administration and APTA.

I’m glad to be here in Toronto with you. Canada is a valuable trading partner for the United States and a tremendous partner in advancing public transit, too. I hope many of you have taken the opportunity to ride the subway or streetcar like I have here in Toronto.

Joining me is FTA Chief Counsel John Brennan, who was appointed last spring, as well as Chief Safety Officer Henrika Buchanan, and the head of FTA’s Grants Office, Bruce Robinson. I hope you enjoyed the video summarizing some of FTA’s important work over the last few months. Before I take your questions, let me take a few minutes to update you on FTA’s latest efforts on safety, infrastructure investment and innovation. As many of you know, those are Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s top priorities.

Let me start with FTA’s most recent efforts to partner with you to promote safety across the industry…

We achieved a tremendous milestone on our collective safety efforts when FTA certified the 31st and final State Safety Oversight Agency in March. The certification allowed FTA to transfer responsibility for direct safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail to the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission after four years.

Relinquishing the direct oversight role and seeing all states achieve certification is a tremendous accomplishment. When I began my tenure at FTA, there was not a single certified program. It is a testament to the partnership between FTA and all of you that we succeeded in getting all 31 SSOAs over the finish line.

Now we are focused on helping you reach another milestone: compliance with the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan rule. PTASP requires you to integrate the principles and processes of safety management systems into your safety plans, creating a foundation to change safety culture from top to bottom to better manage your agency’s safety risks. One important aspect of PTASP is the rule’s flexibility in allowing you to design your safety program in whatever way works best for your system.

FTA is hosting a PTASP webinar series and workshops in a few locations this summer and will continue to provide resources on our website to ensure each of you complete the plan prior to the deadline of July 20, 2020.

One of the issues that continues to stay front and center for all of us is the challenge of keeping transit assets in a state of good repair. We recognize the overwhelming needs across the nation -- and rail in particular -- given that 23 percent of rail transit assets are considered in marginal or poor condition. That’s why, at FTA, we continue to provide support, from dozens of hands-on resources posted on our website to in-person meetings and conferences.

Our Transit Asset Management webinars, trainings, peer exchanges and roundtables have attracted more than 3,400 people in the last 2½ years, and we are committed to continuing to provide the industry with additional technical assistance.

We are collecting asset management success stories, too. In Atlanta, MARTA has been improving the accuracy of its data, developing new performance indicators and engaging staff across the agency in asset management implementation. MARTA’s work paid off earlier this year when they became the first transit agency to achieve a prestigious certification for its asset management program from the International Organization for Standardization, which sets global standards for industries worldwide.

As I’ve said since the beginning of my tenure at FTA, we want to be your partner, and state of good repair efforts are no different. Like you saw in the video, we have provided significant funding for SGR – more than $3 billion dollars for rail projects alone since 2017.

This Administration has signaled increased support for public transportation in the President’s Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request which included $1 billion dollars in new funding for key programs from the General Fund. The proposal includes $500 million for potential new Capital Investment Grant projects that may become ready for funding during FY 2020 as well as a quarter-billion-dollar increase for State of Good Repair formula grants and another quarter-billion dollar increase for bus competitive grants.

The $500 million in CIG funding represents the first time this Administration has requested CIG funding for new projects. In addition to the $1 billion dollars in new transit funding, the budget also recognizes the need to raise our investment in aging infrastructure. The President’s Budget requests $12.4 billion dollars to bring transit infrastructure into a state of good repair and strengthen transit safety oversight. $10.2 billion dollars would be dedicated for transit formula grants, consistent with the fifth year of the FAST Act-authorized funding levels.

At FTA, we are continuing to support the rail industry with significant capital investment. Just last week, we signed a $74.1 million dollar grant agreement with Metro Transit for construction of the Metro Transit Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit project in Minneapolis. The 17-mile-long BRT line will improve mobility and transit service in the region’s busiest corridor, connecting people to major job centers downtown including the headquarters for Target, Best Buy and U.S. Bank.

We also announced last week that BART’s Transbay Corridor Core Capacity project will move into the engineering phase of the CIG program and receive a $300 million dollar funding allocation. The project, which will improve capacity for the BART subway between the City of Oakland and downtown San Francisco, will receive this initial payment upon final FTA approval of a construction grant agreement.

In April, we announced $1.36 billion dollars in CIG funding allocations for 16 projects. The allocations made additional funds available to 11 projects that have existing construction grant agreements and five new CIG projects that are nearing readiness to receive construction grant agreements. With that latest round of allocations, FTA has advanced funding for 23 new CIG projects throughout the nation since January 2017 -- totaling approximately $6.3 billion dollars in transit infrastructure investment.

In fact, when I leave this conference, I’ll be traveling to Dallas to sign another full funding grant agreement. Tune in later this week for more on that!

As you can see, FTA continues to advance projects through the Capital Investment Grants program in accordance with the law and, as projects meet the readiness requirements, they are funded based on their individual merits. That being said, I want to emphasize that the CIG program is just one part of FTA’s support of the transit industry. Please remember that we are F - T - A, not just CIG.

With that in mind, I’m pleased to report that FTA is taking an important step with the Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program. The EPD program encourages collaboration between public and private entities to leverage federal support on major projects. Federal contributions are limited to 25 percent or less of the total project costs and, given the larger local share, FTA will expedite reviews and accelerate grant award decisions.

The law allows the award of up to eight grant agreements under the program. We solicited and received expressions of interest from four agencies for seven projects and, following EPD readiness criteria.

We are happy to announce that we are pursuing an agreement with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San José for the BART Silicon Valley Phase II project. This is a project that VTA would build and BART would ultimately own and operate. I should note that while FTA is initiating more detailed discussions with VTA, we are continuing to work with the other project sponsors as their projects’ may become ready for an agreement under the program.

Much of our research efforts at FTA support innovation in transit technology. As I mentioned, innovation is one of Secretary Chao’s top priorities, and at FTA, we appreciate that rapidly evolving technology brings opportunities to improve public transportation. Many of the projects receiving grants under our $9.6-million-dollar Access and Mobility Partnership program – which we just announced last month – support technology innovations that improve access and mobility for all Americans.   

For example, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System had been using an antiquated phone system for its paratransit service, forcing customers, many of whom have disabilities, to call customer service agents to schedule trips. This poses a hardship for some, given the limited call hours and the fact that they may be experiencing personal challenges. With a $536,000 dollar grant from FTA, the new system will offer an online and voice-prompting reservation system 24 hours a day, making it easier for riders to reserve trips online at any time and, ultimately, have greater access to care.

Just last month, we announced our new Innovative Mobility Initiative – or IMI –which supports some of the most promising new technologies you’ve been considering. IMI, which builds on FTA’s popular Mobility on Demand program, encompasses new forms of mobility such as car-sharing services and automation to help you meet your customers’ expectations and grow ridership. 

We expect the program will generate a number of exciting new ways to travel. For example, we could find more ways to tackle first-mile/last-mile challenges. In one of the projects funded under FTA’s first round of Mobility on Demand grants, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit – BART – addressed the problem of maxed-out transit station parking lots by creating a carpooling app to match transit commuters. With the promise of a guaranteed parking space for carpools at BART stations, the app encourages travelers to find driving partners with one or two clicks. After BART debuted the program at one station, the program has grown to include 17 stations and has matched more than 100,000 trips.

Before I close, I want to take a moment to mention our proposed changes to FTA’s joint development program. We understand that you may want to leverage some of your real estate assets to improve revenue, and our goal is to make that easier for you by streamlining our requirements.

In the spring, we published a request for comments in the Federal Register on revised guidance that would remove the minimum revenue threshold requirement for joint development projects. The comment period closed earlier this month, and my staff is evaluating your feedback. We anticipate that this and other proposed changes will not only streamline FTA’s approval process but, more importantly, result in more value capture opportunities – supporting your agency’s efforts to gain revenue and promote economic development.

A great example of joint development and value capture comes from Metro Transit in St. Paul, Minnesota. Back in the ’70s, Metro Transit acquired 10 acres with FTA assistance to build a streetcar manufacturing facility. Later, Metro Transit used the property for staging as it constructed a light rail line and a BRT route. After those lines opened, and developers’ interest in the area increased, the agency was approached with an opportunity to convert the under-used land to a revenue generator. With FTA’s approval, Metro Transit leased the land to the City of St. Paul, which entered into a joint venture with a development team to build residential, retail and office as well as a soccer stadium with easy access to both transit lines. The new 20,000-seat soccer stadium, home to the Minnesota United, opened in April. Metro Transit expects to receive at least $29 million dollars over the life of the project. And it will gain a lot of new riders, too.

In our Nation’s Capital, we see another great example of value capture. WMATA recently sold a small parcel of land near its Navy Yard Metrorail station that currently holds air conditioning units to cool two Metro stations. A local developer plans to build a 10-story mixed-use building on the site and relocate the chillers to the rooftop, adding significant value to the land and the community. FTA helped WMATA acquire the land with a $77,000 dollar federal share. Of course, this was before the Navy Yard was developed and property values climbed with the addition of the new Nationals baseball stadium and the relocation of US DOT headquarters. Today, WMATA’s return on this investment is 150 times that initial investment.

And, a final story on value capture … US DOT provided a $15-million-dollar BUILD grant in December to SEPTA for its 30th Street Subway Station renovation project, which will nearly double capacity and improve circulation for the 60-year-old station. As the gateway to a section of Philadelphia known as University City – home to some of the city’s largest colleges – it serves as a major transit hub for students, faculty and residents. More than that, this project is helping create value in the community. The BUILD grant funding is one piece of a jointly funded project that also includes private sector support – a $2 million dollar contribution from a development team that is building a large new project in University City. DOT and our SEPTA partners welcome the private investment … and people living, working, and visiting the 30th Street Station neighborhood will reap the benefits of improved transit service.

Our partnership to deliver safe, reliable and efficient public transportation to our nation’s communities would not be possible without you. It is critical to thousands of Americans who depend on it every day. Thank you for your partnership.

Updated: Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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