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Obama Administration Proposes Major Public Transportation Policy Shift to Include Economic Development and Environmental Benefits as Funding Criteria for Major Transit Projects

In a significant change from existing policy, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood proposed that new funding guidelines for major transit projects be based on livability issues such as economic development opportunities and environmental benefits, in addition to cost and time saved, which are currently the primary criteria.

In remarks at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting, the Secretary announced the Obama Administration’s plans to change how projects are selected to receive federal financial assistance in the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New Starts and Small Starts programs. As part of this initiative, the FTA will immediately rescind budget restrictions issued by the Bush Administration in March of 2005 that focused primarily on how much a project shortened commute times in comparison to its cost.

Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it. We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live.

—Secretary LaHood

The change will apply to how the Federal Transit Administration evaluates major transit projects going forward. In making funding decisions, the FTA will now evaluate the environmental, community and economic development benefits provided by transit projects, as well as the congestion relief benefits from such projects.

This new approach will help us do a much better job of aligning our priorities and values with our transit investments. No longer will we ignore the many benefits that accrue to our environment and our communities when we build or expand rail and bus rapid transit systems.

—FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff

FTA will soon initiate a separate rulemaking process, inviting public comment on ways to appropriately measure all the benefits that result from such investments.


richard schumacher

In other words, when handing out grants they'll now consider which developer's nearby project will benefit the most? That would be a mistake. Until now the focus has been on cost effectiveness, but without enough funding; more funds but squandered on gerrymandered and ineffective projects would not be an improvement.


Livability (not individual developers) would be the guiding rule.

Livability may have to be spelled out and be measurable.

Profits, developers bottom line etc may not have much to do with livability factors.


Housing developers build farther out because the land is cheaper and they can make more money, without regard to the nation, fuel usage, traffic congestion, nor air quality. Remote suburbs is how we got into this mess in the first place. Subsidizing builders to build a bit closer in may not be the best use of public funds. It is a classic case of self interest over the general interest.

Will S

This appears to dovetail well with the new LEED for Neighborhood Development standard that looks at not only building energy efficiency, but distances to destinations, availability of mass transit, walkable streets, compact development, bike networks, etc.


Linear suburbs (100+ Km long) built on each side of high speed e-train lines could supply main (hub) cities with all the human resources required.

Developers should have to find ways to extend the e-train feed lines (and side access roads and parkings) concurrently with building more houses.


In southern California, people move farther from work because the houses are more affordable. The people closer to where the jobs are buy a house 30 years ago for $100,000 and now want $600,000 for an old house and get it.

People that bought farther away bought their house for $200,000 20 years ago and went through 3 or 4 cars commuting and used a LOT more fuel. This makes no sense from a societal perspective, we should be using LESS fuel and reducing imported oil but we don't. We must get at the root causes of excessive fuel consumption if we are make progress.

Stan Peterson

Obamacites confirm:
Cost is no consideration.
Utility is no consideration.
Sistance is no consideration.
We love 19th century mass transit, for the proles.

Damn the accountants. Full speed ahead.
Stalin built the Moscow subways, so will we...

Will S

Some people have little understanding of what energy security means. Dozens of generals, admirals, and CEOs *do* and have recommended greatly increased investment in mass transit systems.


I think the DOE, DOD and DOT all know the value of energy security, you use less you save more. This is not a left nor right political issue, it is just common sense.


Electric passenger trains are 200 to 600 times more efficient than the most frugal locally built ICE car.

You can move people 200 Km by e-trains with less energy than driving a current average ICE vehicle one single Km. Distance is not always the problem but the transportation mode is.

Why did we encouraged far away suburbs with very expensive highways instead of high speed e-trains? Is it because we love to spend 2 hrs per day driving? If so, we may not be very samrt.


Harvey, unless the e-train takes passengers to their door resolution destination - there is a lot more time and energy needed to do so. Like with public buses - today it costs less to drive a junker on $3 gas than to take a round trip bus at a $5-6 fare. Public transit is great - but it rarely puts you at the point of destination. And time nearly doubles for most public transit commuters.



I agree, mass transit has its place among solutions, but only a part. Some have said on here that it is the lazy people that won't walk from the mass transit station several miles to work and be sweaty in their business suits. So the whole world is suppose to change to fit their vision of Utopia.

Will S

SJC, I haven't seen anyone suggest that people who won't walk several miles in a suit are lazy. With declining oil production, the world will have to change proactively or reactively; the former would act to ease the transition though the latter would expose a region to dire economic distress. Preparations need to take place 20 years in advance of the peak for a smooth transition, though it could be accomplished in 10 if industry, government, and the citizenry all pulled together strongly. See the DoE report "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management" if you haven't already.


There was at least one comment on here about that. If we had hybrid buses or Zip cars, it might work. That one poster was implying that everyone should walk miles to and from mass transit and that did not seem realistic.

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