South West Transit Association Conference - Denver, CO
Remarks of Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Gary [Thomas, SWTA's Chair and President/CEO of DART, Dallas] for that kind introduction.
It’s great to be here in Denver today with all of you.
I started at FTA on Monday, August 21st. That Friday, Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf coast. And so in my very first week at FTA, I was on the phone with SWTA member agencies in Texas and Louisiana, asking how we could help. At the same time, I was getting to know Bob Patrick and Gail Lissy and the tremendous team at Region 6, making sure they had the support they needed to help out on-the-ground.
I hope that none of us has to withstand another disaster of that magnitude, but it did provide a clear lesson on how dedicated, resilient, and courageous your fellow transit employees are.
In Texas and Louisiana alone, more than 50,000 emergency trips were taken during Hurricane Harvey. Those trips initially included highwater rescues and evacuations, and then transport between shelters, and finally – thankfully – a ride home. This was even more impressive when you consider that those staff members working overtime to help others were themselves suffering. The hurricane impacted their families and their homes – and yet they continued to step up to bring others out of harm’s way.
SWTA didn’t forget those in need or their families. This organization came together, donating gift cards, money, personal items, transportation, time – all of the things that those transit employees and their families might need to get back on their feet again. That suggests to me that, while SWTA is an “association,” it’s also a family – one that was joined by fellow transit professionals from New York to Los Angeles in an outpouring of love and support.
And so when I say it’s an honor to join you today, I truly mean that – because I’ve seen your hard work and dedication up close. Such an extraordinary group of people deserves the support of an equally extraordinary team at FTA – and I’m proud to be joined by senior leaders from that team today:
- Gail Lyssy, Deputy Regional Administrator, Region VI
- Mokhtee Ahmad, Regional Administrator, Region VII
- Cindy Terwilliger, Regional Administrator, Region VIII
- Ed Carranza, Deputy Regional Administrator, Region IX
Today, we’re going to give you an overview of the coming year, and then we’ll be happy to take your questions.
To begin with, today I want to help you understand what the President’s proposed FY 2019 Budget means for public transportation. It requests $11.2 Billion for the Federal Transit Administration, including significant support for bus programs and rural areas. The most common grant programs that states rely on include our formula funding, competitive grants, and research programs. These are funded through the transit portion of the Highway Trust Fund and the President’s proposed budget fully funds them to the levels authorized in the FAST Act. That means they either continue at the FY 2017 levels, or see increases of 2-4%.
For instance, formula grants for rural areas would be funded at $659 Million under the proposed budget, adding $27 Million – or a 4% increase – over the FY 2017 level. Our Bus & Bus Facilities Grants would actually increase 8% over FY 2017 and our Pilot Program for Enhanced Mobility would see a 17% increase. As with last year’s proposed budget, the Capital Investment Grant Program – that’s New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity grants – would be limited to those projects that already have signed Grant Agreements. That amounts to 10 projects across the country, including TEX Rail in Fort Worth.
I’ll talk more about the proposed budget as I touch on each of Secretary Chao’s four priorities:
- Improving Safety
- Investing in our Infrastructure
- Leading the way on Innovation
- And serving the nation with greater Accountability.
Let’s start with Infrastructure, because, of course, the other big news that the Administration has rolled out its Infrastructure Proposal. It’s a package of legislation that now must be acted on by Congress. It includes $200 Billion in Federal funding to spur at least $1.5 Trillion worth of investments over 10 years. $50 Billion of that is dedicated to rural infrastructure and would be provided to the states by formula – with a set-aside for tribes and territories. The Infrastructure program may be a good fit for ambitious transit projects in your states that are able to bring to the table state, local, and private funding.
The President’s proposal is absolutely essential because America’s infrastructure is aging and overburdened, making it less safe and less reliable than it should be. For public transit, we have a $90 Billion maintenance backlog that grows deeper by the day. And so, we have to consider what the right balance is between expansion and maintenance. The President’s proposed budget requests $2.6 Billion for FTA’s State of Good Repair Grants – an $88 Million increase to help address that backlog. In addition, our Bus and Bus Facilities grants would increase 8% to $777 Million. That’s important because approximately 30% of full-sized transit buses will need to be replaced in the next few years. The current round of Bus and Bus Facilities competitive grants will be announced soon. TIGER grants from USDOT will also be announced soon, providing $500 Million, and INFRA grant awards are also in the works.
With each of these programs – as well as with the President’s Infrastructure Plan – we are taking a long hard look at the proper role of the Federal government in supporting infrastructure investments. Even combining Federal, state, and local resources, we will be unable to meet all of America’s infrastructure needs. That’s why half of the Infrastructure Plan’s funding – $100 Billion – will be used to incentivize investments by state, local, and private partners. It’s also important to note that the infrastructure proposal would provide $50 Billion for rural infrastructure in formula grants to States, with a set-aside for tribes and territories.
At FTA, we want to encourage more project management flexibility and timely implementation. We’re also looking at ways to capture the value our industry creates in order to build, operate, and maintain those services over the long term. Many of you are already doing this; we at FTA want to learn from you so we can share that information with other states and localities.
On Safety, we’ve been working closely with those states that have rail transit systems to establish and certify State Safety Oversight programs. These “SSOs” will have the primary, day-to-day oversight of rail transit safety in the 30 relevant states, and so they need to demonstrate that they have the appropriate authority, resources, independence, and expertise necessary to carry out that mission. The deadline to do so and to be certified by FTA is April 15, 2019.
Four jurisdictions have so far achieved certification: Ohio, Minnesota, Utah, and the District of Columbia, which is responsible for its streetcar. Most of the others have advanced to the last stages of certification, but 5 still need some legislative or executive action to take place – including our friends in Oklahoma.
Helping all 30 states get across the finish line will be a focus for FTA this year, because if a state misses the deadline, FTA will be prohibited by statute from obligating ANY transit funds in that state, including rail and bus, urban and rural. Importantly, President Trump’s proposed budget maintains the increased safety positions from the FY 2018 budget.
Innovation will continue to grow in importance as we focus our research efforts on Mobility Innovation, Infrastructure, and Safety. The President’s proposed FY 2019 budget supports FTA’s research portfolio at the levels provided in the FAST Act.
Transit is an integral part of the Department’s inter-modal approach to infrastructure. The goal is to encourage development of a wide variety of safe transportation options so that communities, families, and individuals can choose those that suits them best.
FTA’s “Mobility on Demand” initiative fits right in with that philosophy. Currently, our Mobility on Demand Sandbox is piloting the integration of new technology with transit vehicles and infrastructure, having invested $8 Million in 11 projects. Next on the horizon: Automated Vehicles. It’s likely that driver assistance technologies will help improve safety and efficiency in the transit industry, and fully-automated vehicles may hold the potential to change the way we operate bus rapid transit and demand-response services, among others.
In September 2017, DOT published new voluntary guidelines for the safe testing and integration of autonomous vehicles. It’s called “Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety.” A multi-modal version that includes transit – called “Automated Vehicles 3.0” – is already in the works. We had a DOT-wide summit last week, listening to a wide range of stakeholders so we could identify their concerns and the ideas that will help us move forward. We also have two Requests for Comment out seeking public input: one on an “Automated Transit Bus Research Program” and the other on “Removing Barriers to Transit Bus Automation.” I encourage you to review those and offer your input.
The last of Secretary Chao’s priorities is “Accountability.”
As President Trump announced in his State of the Union address, QUOTE: “In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” In fact, for each new regulation put in place, 22 were eliminated.
At FTA, we are reviewing our regulations and our policies to see where we may be creating roadblocks instead of express lanes. For example, last October we sent a “Dear Colleague” letter that outlines a change to our grant review process that will reduce the number of grants subject to quarterly reporting by 44%. Grants that are $2 million or less will now report just once a year instead of 4 times a year, eliminating close to 11,600 reports and saving recipients over 90,000 staff hours.
We are also working across modal administrations to harmonize FRA’s environmental review requirements with the joint FTA & FHWA requirements, putting all surface transportation under the same procedures.
In closing, I just want to note that FTA supports transit systems in your states with more than $10 billion in formula funding, discretionary grants, and research. That makes us partners in the vital work of bringing more mobility options to Americans everywhere.
We may not always agree on everything, but one thing I can promise you is that I will always be there to listen to you as partners.
Thank you, and I’m looking forward to your questions.