Tuesday night, the Transportation Choices Coalition hosted its annual event, right in the midst of APTA’s yearly powwow and also the biggest local service change of modern times. With national transit professionals descending upon the city in droves, TCC managed to snag a very high-ranking transit VIP for their keynote speaker– Federal Transit Administrator Pete Rogoff. Flanked by Metro GM Kevin Desmond and Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, Rogoff spoke about transit happenings at the federal level and their local implications.
Rogoff focused a large portion of his speech on the passage of MAP-21, the federal transportation bill that will be in effect for two years. He praised the bill’s authorization, a process that began with a battle over whether or not transit could be even funded at the federal level. According to Rogoff, MAP-21’s passage changed the discussion from “stripping” transit out of trust fund dollars to a consensus in favor of preserving funding for both roads and transit.
More below the jump.
He also praised specifics of the bill, including the incorporation of comprehensive transit safety policies as well as a key stipulation which now requires metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) to include local transit agencies as voting members. While the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), the local MPO, has already included all local transit agencies on its membership roster, the move is a huge positive for numerous other metropolitan areas, particularly those that skew planning policies toward roads and suburban growth.
Despite the pros of MAP-21, Rogoff also lamented the cons, namely the bill’s failure to adequately provide a robust funding lifeline for transit. The bill, which will only last for two years, was scaled back from the five-year timeline that President Obama originally proposed. The longer version would have been funded by troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He commended other federal programs, particularly the TIGER grant program, which has helped trigger a “streetcar renaissance” across the country under Secretary LaHood. According to Rogoff, “transit solutions” have received more than a third of TIGER funds. Many transit advocates would argue that is wholly inadequate, given the pressing need for transit capital investments across the country.
Rogoff then spoke at length about the local transit picture, first bemoaning Seattle’s once virtual inability to build anything good, and then commending the region’s successes in the past decade, including the implementation of commuter rail, light rail, and a network of RapidRide lines he humorously termed “BRT.”
The crowd got a good laugh when the Administrator quipped about Washington State’s insatiable desire to bring everything “before the voters.” He remarked on an exchange he had with Senator Murray, who told him that doing just that seemed to be a maxim of the State Legislature, despite their status as elected representatives. Despite his tongue-in-cheek tone, Rogoff’s words expressed a serious concern, particularly with the Legislature’s lukewarmness towards transit worrying agencies across the state.
While Rogoff’s speech was rife with positives, there was no doubt an air of caution. Support for TCC and like-minded organizations was the theme of the night and of particular importance, with huge transit battles looming on the horizon– Clark County’s measure for bus and light rail funding, Pierce Transit’s Proposition 1, and of course, Metro’s search for stable taxing authority before time runs out in 2014.