The Overhead Wire has a great post up about some mischief lurking in the halls of Congress concerning funding for transit projects around the nation. Currently, the New and Small Starts program provides funding for fixed guideway transit — rail projects, but now also bus rapid transit. However, the Federal Transit Administration has issued a notice of proposed rule making for the New and Small Starts program which would have problematic repercussions.
One result of the proposed rule change is that it emphasizes inexpensive projects, thus encouraging cities to investigate cheaper, but very likely less effective versions of projects they are pursuing — in particular, taking projects with a dedicated transit lane and then altering them so that transit vehicles are forced to run in mixed flow with automobiles for some length of the route. Although such a move decreases the cost of the project, it also dilutes the potential increased reliability and decreased travel times which would have been the original purpose of having a separate transit lane in the first place. Converting a project with dedicated right of way to one requiring a significant percentage of mixed flow operations could also have an adverse effect on development and land use potential of the corridor in question.
Another result is that high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes — lanes that are designated for high-occupancy vehicles only, but which single occupancy vehicles can buy their way into, by paying a toll — could qualify as a “fixed guideway transit” in terms of receiving New and Small Starts funding. Since HOT lanes can be funded through an already plenty-ample source of funding, money that has been appropriated for mass transit via New and Small Starts should be used to fund mass transit, period — not to fund additional highway work. With the recent nationwide increase in transit ridership, cities all over the country are studying how to expand and improve their local transit systems, so there is already plenty of competition for the funding. Thanks to this country’s screwy priorities, transit projects are chronically starved anyway, and this proposed rule change could be an impediment to developing new projects, simply because adding HOT lanes to the mix will force transit funds to be divided among a greater number of projects.
At any rate, the effects of this proposed rule change are multifaceted, and I’ve only summarized a couple points here, so for more details, definitely check out that post at the Overhead Wire. Oh, and while you’re at it, you can always voice your opposition by jotting down a note to your senators and your House representative.