I had a long conversation with Rick Olson of the Puget Sound Regional Council. He was not able to tell me which projects were shortlisted, but did shed some light on some of the workings for the transportation aspects of the stimulus bill. Some people have remarked to me that we’re in a good position for getting competitive stimulus grants because of a lack of investment in transportation infrastructure, and Mr Olson ensured me this was not the case. Rather, it’s the combination of a long-term lack of investment and the relatively recent passage of laws like Proposition 1, the Nickel tax and the 9.5 cent tax that has meant we have the a backlog of projects, but enough designs and engineering estimates done that we could actually spend the money.
When the US House passed an smaller infrastructure stimulus package back in November, local agencies started getting their projects in order and prioritized. The stimulus debate dragged on through the lame-duck session, and is only now finally passed, so even the PSRC has had a lot of time to review the projects. Once the bill is signed into law today, the PSRC will likely be able to announce the selected projects within a month, and the Washington State Department of Transportation should have a similar time frame. Generally about half the money needs to be oblidged within 90~180 days (depending on which bucket the cash comes from), and before that can happen, environmental impact statements and early designs need to be completed.
Below the fold I break down the specific funding categories, which ones the PSRC is going to distribute, and which will be distributed by the US DOT in all the wonky details.
The PSRC’s funding will come from two buckets, the Federal Highway Administration Surface Transportation Project (STP) and the FTA grants. Our state will get $490 mn in STP, 30% will go to Metropolitan Planning Organizations like PSRC. The PSRC expects to get $67~$80 mn from this side, and this money, despite its name can be granted to most sorts to transportation projects, ie roads, transit, freight, ferries, etc. 50% of the FHWA money is “use-it-or-lost-it” within 90 days, which means the projects have to be at the design phase by the time the grant is awarded, and the award needs to be completed with 90 days. If not, the money goes back to the US DOT for redistribution to other states. The other 50% needs to be obligated with in one year. The PSRC’s money comes from the one year half.
The second bucket for PRSC funding is the Federal Transit Administration money. Here the state will get about $179mn for state, all of which will go to MPOs, and the PSRC expects to get about $150 million. The money here is given away by a ridership-based formula determined by the FTA. Based on 2007 ridership statistics, Metro (379,340 daily trips) will get the most money, followed by Sound Transit (50,150), Pierce Transit (48,017), Community Transit (37,999), Kitsap Transit (17,979), Everett Transit (7,741) and the transit portion of Washington State Ferries, whose ridership I wasn’t able to find. The formula could be based on different numbers, since ridership statistics were significantly different in 2008 than in 2007. For the FTA cash, it’s “use-it-or-lose-it” with 180 days for 50% of it, and the other 50% within one year.
There are several other pools of money that will be divvied out by the US Secretary of Transportation. These fall into four main buckets: $750 million for New Starts, $750 million for “fixed guide-way modernization”, $1.5 billion in competitive “discretionary grants”, $100 million in grants for reducing the energy footprint of transit agencies, and $8 billion for High Speed Rail. Our area likely won’t get any of the New Starts money, since only U-Link is currently in a New Start agreement with the FTA, and that agreement was only just approved. The fixed-guide-way modernization grant is a formula grant based on rail riders, and since our area’s rail ridership is slow low compared to other regions, we’ll likely get next to nothing from this grant. Metro is also asking for stimulus money for hybrid buses, and that could come out of the $100 million slice for “reducing energy consumption”.
The “discretionary grants” are for port projects, transit projects, local projects projects, freight projects and highway projects. The grants will between $20~$300mn, and the rules state that no one state can get more than $300 mn. Priority will be given to projects that will be completed by 2012, and the criteria for determining who gets the money will come from the USDOT within 60 days. It’s far too early to know whether any projects will get any money, since the USDOT has not mentioned its criteria yet. There’s also $1.3 billion for Amtrak, $450 of which is for capital projects to be spent within two years. Traditionally most of this has gone to the Northeast corridor – where the majority of riders are – but this stimulus bill requires that 40% be spent outside the Northeast corridor. Over the years, Amtrak has put very little into Cascades improvements, nearly all the money for rail improvements here has been spent by WSDOT, Oregon DOT, the cities and counties the stations are in, Sound Transit and the BC Provincial government. That could different this time, though we’ll have to wait and see.
Finally, there’s a huge amount of money, $8 billion, for intercity High Speed Rail projects, this money has much longer time frame. The definition of High Speed Rail is entirely up to the USDOT, but traditionally it has meant trains that go at least 110 mph. This money can be spent on stations, train sets, signal and track upgrades and virtually any other capital project for Intercity rail. Luckily, the EMD F59PHI locomotives that Amtrak Cascades uses can go that fast, so it’s possible that some of the money will make its way here. The time frame is much longer, until 2012 to pick projects, so we might not know for a long time.
Since we may know which projects get funding in a just a few weeks, I’ll stop speculating and the next post about the stimulus from me will likely be letting you know which projects are get funding.