You are here

Keynote: Central Ohio Transit Authority


Keynote Remarks
 Therese McMillan, Acting Administrator
 Federal Transit Administration
 Central Ohio Transit Authority
 Columbus, OH

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Congresswoman Beatty.

It’s a pleasure to be with you today.

Congratulations, COTA, on your 40th anniversary!

Public transportation has long been part of the fabric of daily life in Columbus -- from the early horse cars traveling High Street in the 19th century, to the fuel-efficient hybrid buses that carry passengers across this city today.

But these last four decades truly represent the birth of modern public transportation for the region.

And the last eight years, in particular, have seen strong gains for COTA riders and the community. As Curtis noted, you’ve made great strides connecting job seekers with job opportunities – which is not always easy to do when some of your largest employers are out in the suburbs.

But as we all know, it’s incredibly important.

Along the way, Columbus and the region have faced many significant challenges, especially as our economy, and the jobs that go with it, continue to shift and change.

But I hope we have all learned by now that when it comes to revitalizing our cities, and creating new opportunities for our children and grandchildren, transit is an important part of the solution.

Columbus voters certainly recognized that in 2006, when they approved a small sales tax hike to expand transit over the coming decade.

That was a smart and forward-looking decision.

Because today, we know that central Ohio leads the state in population growth. And roughly a quarter of Columbus residents are under the age of 18.

Polling data suggests that this next generation wants to spend less time driving, and less money paying for gas. They want more options for getting around—whether it’s for work, getting to school, or simply attending an OSU game.

So I am delighted that COTA has decided to celebrate its 40th birthday by launching a plan to build “the next generation” of public transportation for Columbus and central Ohio.

It will be up to all of you to determine what that next generation should look like. Perhaps the proposed Cleveland Avenue Bus Rapid Transit line will be in the mix, or eventually, a rail line.

These are entirely local decisions, and we look forward to working with you, as your future transportation plans take shape.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to look at cities around the country for inspiration – to see how a well-planned, well-connected transit network can truly help transform a city.

Cities that have roughly the same population as Columbus – such as Charlotte, North Carolina – have made transit a big part of urban life, and are reaping the rewards with millions of dollars in transit-oriented development and better access to ladders of opportunity for hard-working families.

Whatever the future of transit looks like in Columbus, I’m guessing that you will want federal funding to be there when you need it to help make these plans a reality.

So allow me to offer some perspective on the larger challenges we face, in terms of how we build the 21st transportation infrastructure we need here in Columbus—and around the nation.

We are, indeed, at a crossroads.

Last year, the transit industry as a whole had the highest ridership in generations and the seventh straight year delivering more than 10 billion trips.

The U.S. population will increase by one-third between now and 2050, adding 100 million new people.

Our transit systems collectively face an $86 billion backlog in much-needed repairs and replacements.

And the American Society of Civil Engineers is handing out poor grades to our infrastructure systems – giving our bridges a C+, roads and transit a D, and our levees a


In light of these trends, we are facing a serious infrastructure deficit in this country, and we must find ways to address it—financially and politically.

Now, as you may know, several weeks ago, Congress passed, and the President signed, a measure that allowed us to narrowly avoid bankrupting the Highway Trust Fund – which also helps to fund our mass transit systems.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there is still no long-term certainty in our outlook for transportation funding in this country.

And without long-term, predictable funding from the federal government, local leaders – like you -- may lose the confidence needed to pursue a bigger vision. . . and instead turn to less ambitious projects that fill immediate needs, without adequately preparing for the challenges and opportunities of growth.

So we’ve postponed the immediate crisis, by extending transportation funding 10 more months, until next May.

But that is certainly not a cause for celebration.

In fact, it's the 28th Band-Aid that Congress has plastered on our infrastructure in the last six years.

And the cumulative effect of these short-term measures is crushing our ability to keep up with the pressures on our national transportation system. The truth is, Band-Aids can’t fill all the potholes and cracked pavement in your community’s roads, and they certainly can’t build new bridges, upgrade rail track, or replace aging buses.

And so I’m asking all of you here today, to stand with us and support a long-term transportation solution.

A transportation solution that doesn't leave future generations hanging by taking the easy way out.

A transportation solution that provides state DOTs, transit agencies, planners, and communities the certainty they need to look ahead more than a few months.

A transportation solution that invests today --in roads, in rail, and in transit-- so America will be ready for tomorrow.

The President and Transportation Secretary Foxx have put forward a plan to do just that.

The GROW AMERICA Act is a bold legislative initiative that would provide $302 billion for transportation over the next 4 years, including $72 billion for transit.

For FTA, that’s a 70 percent increase over current spending – enough to allow us to increase our core formula grant programs to both expand services and invest in state of good repair.

The GROW AMERICA Act would close that looming gap in the Highway Trust Fund – without adding to the deficit.

But really, this isn’t just the GROW AMERICA Act. . . .It’s the GROW COLUMBUS…GROW CLEVELAND…GROW OHIO Act.

If our plan became law, Cleveland and Columbus together would receive more than $8.5 million in additional formula-based funding for public transportation in Fiscal Year 2015 alone, compared with 2014.

For a bus-intensive city like Columbus, it’s good to know that this proposal would also quadruple our investments in buses and bus facilities, giving a dramatic boost to the form of transportation that provides more than half of all transit trips nationwide.

It would also increase funding for our Capital Investment Grant Program– better known as New Starts / Small Starts – by nearly 30 percent over the 2014 level.

That would total more than $10.7 billion over the next 4 years.

To put that in perspective: 50 projects are competing for these limited discretionary funds for capital projects. Thirteen such projects are under construction. And nearly another 40 are in an early stage of development.

An additional seven projects are standing at the front door hoping to get in.

The demand is tremendous—and we need the resources to get more good projects under way.

This is the level of funding we need so that COTA – and transit agencies around the country – can compete for the resources they need to build and grow transit in their communities.

Our capital grant programs are consistently oversubscribed – meaning we receive hundreds of applications seeking billions of dollars more than we can possibly fund in any given year.

The President’s proposal also aims to create jobs and new ladders of opportunity—which is what cities like Columbus need more than anything else.

It does that in two ways:

First, because transportation projects consistently create jobs by putting people to work building them.

And second, by investing 10 times as much funding in transportation workforce development programs over each of the next four years, than in 2014 alone. This signature initiative would help to train a new generation of workers for careers in transportation—and all the new technology that goes with it.

That’s a boon to workers, the industry that relies on them, and the riders they serve.

There are many other provisions in the GROW AMERICA Act that we could talk about, and you can find out more on our website.

In the meanwhile, we’re not waiting for Congress to act.

In June, as many of you know, we announced the availability of approximately $100 million in competitive grant funds through our new Ladders of Opportunity Initiative.

These funds will help to modernize and expand transit bus service specifically for the purpose of connecting disadvantaged and low-income individuals, veterans, seniors, youths, and others with local workforce training, employment centers, health care, and other vital services.

There’s no doubt that thousands of transit riders in central Ohio stand to benefit directly from a program like this.

And we simply must do more of the same – to meet the growing demand for service that’s all around us.

I’d like to close with this thought:

Many of you in this room have worked long and hard to bring good transit choices to Columbus – and you’re fighting now for a future where transit is even more woven into the fabric of this city and the Central Ohio region.

You’ll need good partners to achieve your goals—partners in your communities, who value transit’s contribution to their quality of life.

Partners at the state level, to help you get a seat at the table.

Partners in the private sector, who see the investment opportunities that transit offers.

And partners at the federal level, like FTA.

Together, we can make a difference in Central Ohio’s future.

So please speak out and let all your elected representatives know that you want to keep Ohio moving forward.

You want access to adequate resources so that you truly can plan and build the next generation of transportation for Central Ohio.

As Secretary Foxx said recently, “If we’re only building for the present, we’re building for the past.”

Thank you.

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Submit Feedback >