Mass Transit:

FTA's New Starts Funding Criteria

RCED-98-189R: Published: May 20, 1998. Publicly Released: May 20, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) new starts projects, focusing on: (1) the process and criteria that FTA uses to identify and recommend new starts projects; (2) which of the House of Representatives-passed Building Efficient Surface Transportation and Equity Act (BESTEA) new starts projects meet FTA's criteria for funding; and (3) the impact that funding additional projects would have on existing new starts projects.

GAO noted that: (1) FTA uses several guiding principles to identify those projects that it recommends to Congress for new starts funding; (2) most important, according to FTA, is that the projects have full funding grant agreements and that they are capable of obligating funds in the coming fiscal year (FY); (3) in awarding a full funding grant agreement, FTA follows a comprehensive set of statutory and administrative criteria; (4) in addition, FTA expects that most new start proposals will be supported by a major investment study; (5) of the 170 projects that BESTEA would authorize for funding under the new starts program, 14 (about 8 percent) currently meet the principles that FTA uses to recommend projects for new starts funding; (6) these 14 projects were recommended by FTA for about $870 million in new starts funding for FY 1999; (7) of the remaining 156 BESTEA projects, 33 are included in FTA's pipeline; (8) the other 123 BESTEA projects are not included in FTA's pipeline because they are in the early stages of development and the information available to assess their potential for full funding grant agreements has not been fully developed; (9) twelve of the 14 projects recommended by FTA for new starts funding have federal financial commitments of almost $2.3 billion beyond FY 1999; (10) the projects currently recommended by FTA would essentially use most of the federal new starts funds until 2003; (11) furthermore, total project costs could increase if the construction time is extended; (12) FTA officials indicated to GAO that projects in the early planning stages should be funded with planning funds or with flexible highway funds rather than with new starts funds; and (13) this would allow amounts authorized for new starts projects to be applied to projects that have full funding grant agreements and help ensure that they are completed as soon as possible.

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