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Feds announce change to consider livability in funding transit projects

TriMet MAX on the Transit Mall Originally uploaded by paulkimo90
From the Transportation for America Flickr group.

Following through on a policy change hinted at for much of 2009, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced this morning that federal transit officials would begin considering expanded criteria as they select which transit projects to fund, bringing a new focus on improving livability and sustainability.

At the Transportation Research Board’s annual conference this morning, Secretary LaHood made it clear that a wider range of positive benefits would be considered in the application process for new transit lines or systems. These applications were being unfairly burdened by the previous administration’s cost-effectiveness measurement, which left out such benefits as energy efficiency, economic development and reduced emissions.

“Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it,” he said. “We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live.”

Of course, the one problem that this will not fix is the very high demand for a limited supply of New Starts funding. Even under the old narrow rules for winning approval, only a small percentage of the many applicants were receiving limited funding, and even then, the federal government was only matching about half of local funds, compared with at least 80 percent for road projects.

Still, this change is keeping in line with the positive reforms contained in Chairman Jim Oberstar’s draft reauthorization bill released back in the summer. In June, we quoted the bill’s section on New Starts reform, noting that the proposal to remove the cost-effectiveness requirement and include other “livability” criteria “equalizes the treatment of proposed transit projects and elevates the importance of the benefits that will occur in the community once the project is built.”

The Obama administration and all the leaders at USDOT and the Federal Transit Administration are to be praised for their leadership in changing this program for the better. The next step is securing a greater share of funds for public transportation in the upcoming reauthorization and improving federal match rates to equalize the choices state or regional leaders face between new highways and new transit lines.

Update: Chairman Oberstar responded with a statement of his own praising the change, also observing that New Starts needs greater funding to meet the overwhelming demand. “Now we need increased investment dollars to follow this reform, so that we can move forward with transit projects that relieve congestion, reduce emissions, increase our energy independence, and promote more livable communities across the country,” he said. (From Elana Schor’s post on Streetsblog Capitol Hill)

No Comments

  1. Mark Robinowitz

    15 years ago

    It would be an “exciting announcement” if they would announce they were going to stop funding new interstate highways because of Peak Oil and Climate Chaos. Peak Oil means Peak Traffic, but so far there are not any cities or states in the US that have decided to stop building new or wider roads because of the end of cheap oil or the start of climate change.

    It is strange that pro-road expansion organizations have better information on their websites about planned new highways than the national environmental groups working on transportation issues.


    is more informative about what is planned than the “T4A” and related efforts. The highway bills in 1991, 1998 and 2005 were massive expansions of highway construction – along with modest efforts for public transit – but the DC based environmental groups generally did not want to talk about the new interstate highways specified as “priority corridors.”

    The photo of a new light rail line in Portland, Oregon bypasses the Governor of Oregon’s plan for $18 billion in new and expanded state highways (about 2/3rds of that is in the Portland metro area). A few hundred million for transit and over ten billion for road expansion in Portland is not a means to achieve “livability’ according to the definition of the foundation funded environmentalists.


    has a list of the largest projects planned in Oregon according to the Governor’s Transportation Vision Committee (November, 2008).

  2. Pingback: Matthew Yglesias » LaHood to Change Bush-Era Rule, Put Full-Spectrum of Transit Benefits on the Table for “New Starts” Funding