Mass Transit:

FTA's New Starts Commitments for Fiscal Year 2003

GAO-02-603: Published: Apr 30, 2002. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2002.

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Since the early 1970's, the federal government has provided a large share of the nation's capital investment in urban mass transportation. Much of this funding has come through the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) New Starts Program, which helps pay for rail, bus, and trolley projects. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century authorized about $6 billion in "guaranteed" funding for the New Starts program through fiscal year 2003. FTA's evaluation process assigns candidate projects individual ratings for project justification and local financial commitments. The process also assigns an overall rating intended to reflect the project's merit. FTA recommended four projects for funding commitments for fiscal year 2003 in its New Starts report and budget proposal. FTA evaluated 50 proposed projects for fiscal year 2003 and developed ratings for 31 of them. Twenty-seven of these projects were rated as "highly recommended" or "recommended." Although FTA has faced transit budget crunches for years, the agency will end the act's authorization period with $310 million in unused commitment authority. Proposals to limit the amount of New Starts funds would allow more projects to receive such funding, but could harm specific projects being developed and the local transportation planning process. For example, limiting New Starts funds to 60 percent of a project's cost for the 49 projects now in final design or preliminary engineering would "free up" $500 million for additional projects. However, only 20 percent of these projects plan to use New Starts funds for more than 60 percent of projected costs and would be affected by such a cap.

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