Friday, May 08, 2009

DOT stimulus funds: Cash advance or extra bucks?

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Thursday identified $742.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funds targeted for numerous specific rail transit projects nationwide. Unclear to some observers, however, was whether the funds released are a cash advance, simply making funds pledged earlier available more quickly, or additional funding support for various projects, made available now and to be “swapped” later.

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For at least one recipient, Portland’s TriMet, the issue is crystal clear. Says TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch, “It’s not new money; it’s money, faster.” The speed is significant for TriMet, Fetsch points out, because “since the funds are advanced to us ahead of schedule, getting those funds means we’re saving roughly $750,000 in financing costs.” TriMet was granted $32 million for its South Corridor I-205/Portland Mall LRT project, already under way.

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The Obama Administration has made clear its desire to get “stimulus package” funds out quickly to live up to the suggested goal. “This money will not only put people back to work and spur the economy, it will also provide an alternative form of transportation for people around the country to get to their homes, work and school,” LaHood said in announcing grants, funneled through the Federal Transit Administration’s already established list of “full funding grant agreements” with at least nine states.

But, significantly, DOT noted, “The ARRA grants announced [May 7] do not increase the federal commitment to the projects, but expedite funds committed under the agreement between the federal government and thetransit agencies.”

Other recipients named by LaHood include: Phoenix-Central Phoenix/East Valley Light Rail ($36 million); Los Angeles’ Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension ($66.7 million); Denver’s West Corridor LRT ($40 million); Springfield, Ore.’s Pioneer Parkway EmX Bus Rapid Transit ($2.9 million); Dallas’ Northwest/Southeast LRT ($78.4 million); Salt Lake City’s Mid-Jordan LRT ($90.9 million); the northern Virginia (Washington, D.C.) Dulles Corridor Metrorail Extension to Wiehle Ave. ($77.3 million); and Seattle University Link LRT extension ($44 million).

New York’s MTA Long Island Rail Road East Side Access was awarded $195.4 million, while MTA New York City Transit’s Second Avenue Subway Phase I was granted $78.9 million.