2019 AASHTO Washington Briefing – Washington, D.C.
Remarks of Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good morning. Thank you, Jim. It’s great to be here as well with Jim Tymon in his new role as AASHTO Executive Director. He was an important partner to FTA when he worked on the Hill and continues to be a great partner in his role leading AASHTO.
I’m glad to join my US DOT colleagues and have the opportunity to speak with you today about the priorities of the Federal Transit Administration.
I apologize that I have to depart immediately following my speech, but will leave you in the capable hands of FTA’s Executive Director Matt Welbes for any follow-up questions at the end of the panel.
We’re very happy to be back after the government furlough ended last month. Unlike our colleagues at Federal Highways, over 90 percent of FTA staff were furloughed. It was a challenging time for FTA and the agencies that depend on us, especially smaller transit agencies that rely on federal support to keep their doors open and their buses running.
Getting funding to our grant recipients was our number one priority. I’m happy to report that in our first week after returning, we processed $1 billion dollars in payments to grantees. By the first day, we had processed half of that – $531 million dollars.
FTA’s financial staff rolled up their sleeves to disburse payments quickly – more than 10 times the payments processed over the same period one year earlier. I am proud of their commitment to ensuring that transit remained available to the people who depend on it every day.
You know I’m someone who tries to look for silver linings when circumstances are not ideal. Recent events remind me how we – and the American transportation system – remain interconnected. Last year, I spoke about the importance of our partnership, and I remain committed to partner with each of you to help deliver safe, reliable and efficient public transportation.
I’d like to start by sharing some good news about our safety oversight efforts, as safety is Secretary Chao’s number one priority. We’ve been working closely with states to establish and certify 31 State Safety Oversight programs before the April 15th deadline.
I’m pleased to announce today that we are certifying three additional states – New York, New Jersey and Florida. This is great news because it means that all 30 SSOAs – with the exception of the Metrorail Safety Commission here in Washington, D.C. – have FTA-certified programs before the April deadline set in law.
I came to FTA from the Maryland Department of Transportation, where I drafted the Maryland portion of the legislation for the Metrorail Safety Commission. So I realize this is a tremendous accomplishment, and I am grateful to our FTA team under the leadership of Henrika Buchanan, FTA’s chief safety officer, for her guiding hand. When I began my tenure at FTA, there was not one certified program. I asked for your help, and states stepped up to the plate and partnered with FTA to make this happen.
Our shared commitment to improving the safety of our nation’s rail systems has been a driving force to establish stronger SSO programs across the nation.
FTA continues to support the capital needs of transit agencies across the nation, an effort strengthened by your partnership. The President has made clear that infrastructure investment is a national priority that must be addressed at the federal, state and local levels. In the last year, FTA allocated $15 billion dollars in formula and discretionary funding to Capital Investment Grant projects, bus fleet modernization and state of good repair needs.
The Department, under the leadership of Secretary Chao, is taking a leading role on infrastructure investment. Secretary Chao announced $1.5 billion dollars in BUILD awards this past December, which represents a down payment on our commitment to America’s infrastructure.
An increase in funding resulted in double the number of BUILD applications between 2017 and 2018. Last year, transit projects received more than $160 million dollars.
For example, the North Central Regional Transit District in Española [Ess-pan-YOL-ah], New Mexico, received $1.3 million dollars to build a bus maintenance facility. This small agency provides bus service to 70 communities across 10,000 square miles. Last year, RTD provided close to 300,000 rides.
In Philadelphia, a $15-million-dollar BUILD grant to SEPTA will transform the 30th Street Subway Station, doubling capacity and improving circulation and accessibility. The project is notable for its significant value capture elements -- the BUILD grant is one piece of a jointly funded project that includes federal, state, local and private sector support. USDOT’s share of the 30th Street Station renovation represents 39 percent of the $38-million-dollar project and will leverage $23 million dollars in state, local and private funds. We are pleased to support this kind of partnership.
The SEPTA subway station renovation is part of a larger project to develop the city’s western riverfront neighborhood with18.3 million square feet of new development, which is expected to generate at least $3.8 billion dollars in state and local economic development and create approximately 40,000 jobs. That is truly impressive.
FTA continues to support projects through the Capital Investment Grants program. The CIG program leverages capital-intensive, often multimodal transit projects to support public transportation in your communities. During this Administration – and in line with past Administrations – FTA has advanced funding for 17 new CIG projects totaling approximately $4.8 billion dollars in funding commitments.
In November, I signed a $149 million dollar Full Funding Grant Agreement with the Orange County Transportation Authority for the Santa Ana Streetcar, and in December, I signed a $1.17 billion dollar FFGA with Sound Transit for the Lynnwood Link light rail project.
I traveled to Florida in December to announce a $17 million dollar CIG grant to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for its East Corridor BRT line. This is JTA’s fourth of five lines in the city’s BRT system, which will serve heavily reliant transit populations. FTA’s support of Jacksonville’s First Coast Flyer is leveraged by Florida DOT and JTA funding – a true model of partnership.
I would also like to mention FTA’s Bus & Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program. Buses are really the workhorses of transit, the most widely used form of public transportation in the United States. Buses provide a vital service for transit-dependent Americans, including senior citizens and those with disabilities.
In the last year, with two rounds of bus funding from fiscal years 2017 and 2018, we announced $631 million dollars in funding to 246 projects nationwide. Forty-three percent of the grant funds went to states for projects in small urban and rural areas.
For example, a $7 million dollar grant to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is helping 33 agencies across the state upgrade to “smart” transit infrastructure. This includes real-time bus apps, flexible fare payment and vehicle health monitoring systems to improve service, accessibility and state of good repair needs.
And earlier this month, Secretary Chao announced another $5 million dollars of federal discretionary funds for 36 grants to support bus service run by American Indian and Alaskan Native tribal governments.
DOT continues to invest in and support the fast-evolving field of automation, in line with Secretary Chao’s priority to support innovation. This past December, the US Department of Transportation announced the availability of up to $60 million dollars in federal funding for projects that test automated driving systems, including cars, trucks and transit. The closing date for DOT to receive applications is March 21st.
At FTA, our Strategic Transit Automation Research – or STAR – program is also providing half a million dollars in seed money to leverage the work of organizations on transit bus automation research and to spread the word about successes and challenges as they expand into automation.
Automation is becoming real. In Denver, RTD just launched an automated electric bus shuttle between a commuter rail station and a new “smart city” under construction by the Panasonic Corporation. The AV shuttle will encourage people to take the train to both Denver International Airport and downtown.
These are certainly interesting times to work in the field of transportation. USDOT and FTA are proud to be part of transportation’s innovation and to partner with you to deliver safe, reliable public transportation to America’s communities.