Fernandez to Retire as FTA Administrator (UPDATED, 2/12)

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez will retire, effective Feb. 24.

FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez will retire, effective Feb. 24.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on Feb. 7 announced that Administrator Nuria Fernandez will retire, effective Feb. 24. FTA Deputy Administrator Veronica Vanterpool will serve as Acting Administrator.

Fernandez was named Deputy Administrator on January 20, 2021, upon the inauguration of President Joe Biden, and was later nominated to be Administrator. On June 10, 2021, Fernandez was confirmed by the United States Senate as the 15th Administrator of FTA. She became the first woman of color to be confirmed to that position. During her three-year tenure at the helm of FTA, she led the agency in making “transformative investments and created policies that made public transportation stronger and safer nationwide.”

Fernandez championed FTA’s successful implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s (BIL) public transportation funding and programs, resulting in record investment in American transit. This included managing an annual mass transit budget that increased from $13 billion in fiscal year 2021 to $21 billion in fiscal year 2022 and establishing four new BIL competitive grant programs totaling $2.7 billion over the three years.

During her tenure, more than $4.8 billion was invested in American-made, zero-emission transit buses to support a more environmentally sustainable transportation system. She also established the Transit Workforce Center to provide America’s frontline transit workers with resources to increase safety in their operations, while growing their skills to be ready to operate and maintain the transit of the future.

A leader in the advancement of BIL provisions that would result in safer transit operations across the country, Fernandez instituted FTA’s “wide-ranging and productive measures to improve safety in public transit, particularly focusing on both short- and long-term policies to protect America’s transit workers from assault on buses and trains and improve passenger and worker safety on transit rail systems.”

Since 2021, Fernandez signed 11 Capital Investment Grant program Small Starts agreements, for projects under $400 million dollars, in:

  • Vancouver, WA
  • San Bernardino, CA
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Austin, TX
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Albany, NY
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Portland, OR
  • Three projects in the Seattle metro area.

Additionally, Fernandez advanced funding for four multi-year grant agreements in the New Starts program, including projects in Phoenix, Ariz.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Madison, Wis.; and the largest CIG grant ever signed, for the Second Avenue Subway Phase II project in New York City. These projects, FTA says, “will help hundreds of millions of Americans connect to services they need, jobs to which they aspire, and housing in affordable communities.”

Shortly after rejoining FTA in 2021, Fernandez took over leadership of the federal transit response to the impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency on transit. This included a focus on maintaining safe travel for the transit workforce that moved frontline workers to and from their jobs; implementing transit practices that reduced COVID-19-related illness and fatalities; and coordinating the award of more than $70 billion in federal COVID emergency recovery funds.

Fernandez was also responsible for overseeing the strengthening of the FTA workforce, leading the growth and reorganization on the agency through resources in the BIL that helped FTA deliver on its mission of improving America’s communities through public transportation, including investments in safety, research, oversight and technical assistance. “Fernandez’s inclusive and results-based approach won praise from FTA stakeholders and the agency’s workforce,” according to the Administration.

As FTA Administrator, Fernandez traveled to dozens of rural, tribal, suburban and urban communities to personally engage with grant recipients and provide technical assistance and resource in support of American public transportation. She led pioneering events, such as hosting the first FTA Asian-American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander transit listening sessions. She also led the first FTA event specifically for Alaska Natives in Anchorage, Alaska, to help FTA better understand the challenges facing transit in Alaskan communities.

“As a young immigrant to this great nation and a student at Bradley University, I could never have imagined serving millions of transit riders across that nation who take billions of trips every year, doing so under two Presidents, in the service of the American people,” Fernandez said. “Public service is an honor and a privilege, and I am eternally grateful to President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg for granting me the opportunity to guide the dedicated and professional public servants at FTA. Public transportation has been a significant part of my professional life for more than three decades. I have had the distinction to have built a career serving in various roles in this industry and across this country. But, as I often say, our jobs are what we do, not who we are. As I leave what I do, I look forward to spending more time with my family and friends, who have truly created so much of who I am.”

On Feb. 9, American Public Transportation Association (APTA) President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas released the following statement on the retirement of FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez:

“Nuria has been a fierce advocate for public transportation during her wide-ranging career in the industry, including her term as APTA’s Board Chair right before taking the helm at FTA three years ago.

“Her unwavering dedication to the industry, her vision, and her exemplary leadership at FTA over the past three years proved to be monumental for our industry during a pivotal time of recovery and rebuilding for U.S. transit agencies of all sizes. Under Nuria’s watch, our industry has benefitted from historic investments and forward-looking policies that are strengthening public transportation and the communities it serves.

“Nuria embodies excellence, and APTA, our members and the industry at large would not be where they are today without her stalworth dedication and leadership. We truly appreciate all she has done to grow and strengthen America’s public transportation over the years.”

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