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APTA Legislative Conference - 2019

3/18/2019

2019 APTA Legislative Conference – Washington, D.C.
Remarks of Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning. Thank you, Diana [Mendes, Chair, APTA Legislative Committee]. Before I begin, I want to thank Paul [Skoutelas, APTA President/CEO] and David [Stackrow Sr., APTA Chair] for their leadership and collaboration. Our ability to collaborate is important and will be critical as we broach discussions about reauthorization and the future of transit.

I’m glad to have the opportunity to speak with you today about the priorities of the Federal Transit Administration.

I hope you enjoyed our visual summary of some of FTA’s important work over the last several months. As you can see, we have been very busy at FTA – doing our part to support public transportation nationwide.

I had the chance to visit many of you and ride many of your transit systems during my travel over the past year. I always make a point to ride a bus, the light rail or subway system in every community I visit. It’s been great to experience your systems firsthand, and I appreciate your hospitality and our partnership.

First, let me begin by sharing how very happy we at FTA are to be back at work following the lapse in appropriations. More than 90 percent of FTA staff were furloughed in December and January. Needless to say, it was a challenging time for FTA and, more importantly, for the agencies that depend on us.

Getting funding to our grant recipients was our number one priority. I’m happy to report that in our first week after returning to work, we processed more than 4,300 requests from grantees totaling $1 billion dollars in funding. On the first day back, we processed more than half of that in payments totaling $531 million dollars.

Thousands of transit agencies rely on FTA reimbursements to pay their drivers, mechanics, and other employees to keep their trains and buses running. Agencies also rely on us for nearly half of all transit capital spending.

FTA’s financial staff rolled up their sleeves to make payments quickly -- more than 10 times the number of 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.

Our response is indicative of the dedication FTA staff brings to the table every day to support our mission to improve public transportation in America’s communities.

I am happy to report that we had a very productive 2018. FTA awarded more than $15 billion dollars in funding to support transit agencies through both formula and competitive grant programs. In addition, FTA also awarded:

  • $194 million dollars in Positive Train Control grants and …
  • $1.6 billion in funds flexed from the Federal Highway Administration to FTA’s program, an increase of 23 percent over 2017.

Last week, we posted the fiscal year 2019 full-year apportionment tables, with $10.2 billion dollars in funds for FTA’s formula programs for FY2019. We apportioned:

  • $5.3 billion dollars in Urbanized Area Formula grants
  • $2.9 billion dollars in State of Good Repair grants
  • $716 million dollars in Rural Area Formula Grants
  • $280 million dollars for the Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities and…
  • $615 million dollars in Buses and Bus Facilities formula grants.

With the release of the tables, you can now draft your grants and submit your applications in FTA’s Transit Award Management System. In addition, we have $17 billion dollars from previous years available resulting in significant balances that are ready to be awarded in grants. There’s also $17 billion dollars in existing grants waiting to be drawn down from the U.S. Treasury.

 So, in total, we have nearly $50 billion dollars of transit funds at FTA that you can access. My message to you is: do not wait. I urge you to work on your grants now to put these funds to use on public transportation projects important to your communities.

As you know, last week, President Trump submitted the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020. The Administration’s budget requests $12.4 billion dollars to bring our nation’s bus and rail transit infrastructure into a state of good repair, fund new and expanded transit systems and strengthen transit safety oversight. The President’s request makes strategic investments in transit infrastructure through formula grants and competitive funding opportunities that address the capital needs of communities throughout the country.

Of the total budget request for public transportation, $10.2 billion dollars is in transit formula grants, consistent with the fifth year of the FAST Act-authorized funding levels.

I want to highlight that the budget request also includes an additional $500-million-dollar increase for two transit programs from the General Fund over and above the FAST Act level. The increase is split between two programs -- $250 million dollars for State of Good Repair formula grants and $250 million dollars for bus competitive grants.

The additional funding reflects this Administration’s support for transit and a recognition of the importance of state of good repair needs in both the bus and rail industries. We recognize the overwhelming needs across the nation, as close to a third of our bus fleets and a quarter of our rail transit assets are considered in marginal or poor condition.

In addition, the DOT request also includes $500 million dollars for new CIG projects -- let me say that again: new CIG projects – that may become ready for funding in FY2020. The Administration requested a total of $1.5 billion dollars for the Capital Investment Grant program, which funds 10 existing Full Funding Grant Agreements as well as the additional $500 million dollars for new projects.

This is the first time this Administration is requesting CIG funding for projects without signed grant agreements already in place.

That being said, I do want to remind you that the CIG program is just one part of FTA’s support of the transit industry. Please remember that we are FTA, not just CIG and would ask that you define us as such.

As part of the President’s budget request, the Administration is also calling for $37 million dollars to support FTA’s research program to advance transit innovation. This is such an exciting time to be part of the transportation field. FTA’s research activities are focusing on finding and testing new technologies to increase safety, support improvements in infrastructure and find new ways to increase mobility. FTA’s current research program has been supporting advances in autonomous vehicle and mobility technology.

Overall, the 2020 budget reinforces the Administration’s commitment to building a 21st- century infrastructure system. Everyone in this room knows that smart investments in transit infrastructure support mobility and stimulate economic growth, making communities better places to live. The Administration’s budget request confirms the President’s belief that infrastructure investment leads to economic development and a better quality of life.

Moving on to safety... As all of you know, safety is Secretary Chao’s number one priority and, since my arrival at FTA in August of 2017, one of my first priorities was to establish a partnership with the states in establishing all 31 State Safety Oversight programs and certifying those programs prior to the April 15th deadline.

Today, I’m pleased to announce that FTA has certified the final SSO – the 31st SSO – the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission’s State Safety Oversight Program. This is particularly meaningful for me, having served with Secretary Rahn under Governor Hogan at MDOT when FTA made the decision to take over direct safety oversight of the WMATA system.

The certification of the Commission will transfer responsibility for direct safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail from FTA to the Safety Commission. And with that certification, approximately $48.5 million dollars in FTA funding -- withheld from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia -- will now be available to local transit agencies across those jurisdictions.

Having all states achieve certification is a tremendous accomplishment. When I began my tenure at FTA, there was not one certified program. I asked for your help, and you delivered.  I especially want to thank the state officials who stepped up to the plate and partnered with FTA to make this happen. And, of course, my FTA leadership – Executive Director Matt Welbes and FTA Chief Safety Officer Henrika Buchanan. 

Our shared commitment to improving the safety of our nation’s rail transit systems has been a driving force to establish stronger SSO programs across the nation. 

FTA is also launching a Human Trafficking Awareness and Public Safety Program, including the announcement of two funding opportunities totaling $4 million dollars, which will be published in the coming weeks. The funding, which FTA is making available to address human trafficking, crime prevention and transit operator assault, supports Secretary Chao’s initiative to combat human trafficking on all modes of transportation. USDOT and FTA are committed to detecting, deterring and eliminating human trafficking on all modes of transportation.

We hope that these resources can help you with projects and public awareness campaigns that will address this critical public safety concern.

In addition to safety, another of Secretary Chao’s priorities is investing in infrastructure. The BUILD program provides significant funding for road, rail, transit, and port infrastructure projects nationwide. Increased interest and funding levels in the BUILD program resulted in close to double the number of BUILD applications between 2017 and 2018, although transit applications were down.

Last December, Secretary Chao announced $1.5 billion dollars in BUILD awards, which represents a down payment on the Department’s commitment to America’s infrastructure. Last year, transit projects received more than $160 million dollars in funding for 14 projects across the country. 

In fact, Secretary Chao traveled to Florida in February to announce a $25 million BUILD grant in Jacksonville, Florida, which supports improvements to a downtown corridor, including an autonomous transit network powered by smart technologies that will help reinvigorate the city’s riverside area.

Another example from the BUILD grants is a $15-million-dollar grant to  transform SEPTA’s 30th Street Subway Station, doubling capacity and improving  accessibility. The project is notable for its significant value capture elements – the grant is one part of a jointly funded project that includes federal, state, local and private sector support. The $38-million-dollar project will leverage $23 million dollars in state and local funds and $2 million dollars in private investment -- and will yield $3.8 billion dollars in economic development with the creation of 40,000 jobs.  The project is a part of a private development that will transform Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River waterfront.

These are the types of partnerships and projects we are pleased to support.

As I mentioned earlier, FTA continues to support projects through the Capital Investment Grants program. 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. Lynnwood Link, which will expand light rail service between Seattle and some of its most populated northern suburbs, is also receiving credit assistance through USDOT’s TIFIA loan program.

I also announced a $17 million dollar CIG grant to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for its East Corridor BRT line in December. This is JTA’s fourth of five BRT lines, which serve transit-reliant populations. FTA’s support of Jacksonville’s First Coast Flyer is leveraged by Florida DOT and JTA funding – a true model of partnership and a reflection of this Administration’s commitment to shared responsibility.

As important as these BUILD and CIG projects are to our communities, I would argue that it is equally important to also balance state of good repair needs. US DOT estimates that our national transit infrastructure backlog stands at $90 billion dollars -- and I don’t need to tell this group that it continues to grow every year.

The President’s budget requests significant funding for grants to support state of good repair needs, with various programs totaling $4 billion dollars. The additional $500 million dollars for State of Good Repair and Bus & Bus Facilities funding reflects this Administration’s priority for investment.

We know this is a critical challenge facing the industry. FTA staff has provided – and will continue to offer – significant technical assistance to help agencies meet the new transit asset management requirements that went into effect in October 2018, including webinars and in-person training. Last year, we held eight webinars that attracted close to 2,000 participants from all 10 FTA regions – and our presentations were viewed 950 times after that. If you haven’t done so already, check out our FTA TAM website for many useful resources.

Speaking of resources, I’m happy to announce that today we are issuing a notice of funding for the Low and No Emission program, with $85 million dollars available. The program replaces diesel fuel buses with battery-electric or fuel cell-powered vehicles and incorporates other innovations. Low-No projects improve operating efficiency using advanced technologies.

Later this spring, FTA will announce more grant opportunities for infrastructure investment, including the Buses and Bus Facilities Infrastructure program, which will be funded at $423 million dollars, and the competitive Tribal Transit program, which will be funded at $5 million dollars.

This is also a good time to remind you that our $30 million dollar Passenger Ferry discretionary grant NOFO has already been published, and applications are due by April 15. 

Most FTA program notices receive requests for more funding than is available.  Last year, however, we had more Transit-Oriented Development funding than applications to the program. If your agency needs to do planning around transit stations, please watch for the next request for proposals. It’s an opportunity to make your system stronger and capture the value transit brings to the community through development.

Lastly, don’t forgot to apply for the DOT NOFO for projects that test automated driving systems, which includes funding for transit. The deadline is this week -- March 21st  to be exact!

Together, these competitive grants provide more than $600 million dollars to transit agencies to improve safety and reliability and enhance mobility for transit riders across the country.

I know from conversations with many of you about your high interest in FTA’s oversight program – specifically, triennial reviews. After the five-week furlough delayed our FY2019 triennial review schedule, we set up new teams to help with triennial reviews and will work collaboratively with our grant recipients and regional colleagues to complete them as quickly as possible. We have 16 Triennial Review workshops planned and hope to have them scheduled in the coming weeks.

We are working hard to improve the efficiency and transparency of FTA’s oversight process by developing a new oversight tracking system that will  improve the user experience – giving you, the grantee, improved access to information about reviews, findings and other data. We will be partnering with you to find out what functions would be most useful.

In closing, we at FTA -- like you -- are focused on improving transportation in America’s communities. We remain committed to partner with each of you as you deliver safe, reliable public transportation in your communities.

Thank you.

Updated: Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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