The Federal Transit Administration has very specific guidelines for any agency looking for federal funds. DART has adhered to the requirements and regulations of the Federal Capital Investment Program to help give the second Downtown Dallas light rail alignment (D2) the best potential to secure this funding. Three key pieces of legislation shaped D2’s path to federal funds since this phase of the project was initiated in 2007:
Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)
- What it is: Signed into law in 2005, this five-year transportation bill distributed federal grants for New Start and Small Start projects. Although projects were eligible for an 80/20 match (meaning 80% of the budget is funded by the federal government), the FTA has historically granted a maximum of 50%, with a few exceptions, to ensure that as many projects as possible could receive assistance. In any given year, approximately 100 projects enter the pipeline for future funding determinations.
- What it means: D2 was eligible for funding as a New Start project. As an up-and-coming transit system, DART chose to seek this funding because DART had a good performance record and could follow through with the proposed project.
Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21)
- What it is: Signed into law in 2012, this two-year transportation bill funded surface transportation projects with an 80/20 federal match, including New Start, Small Start, and Core Capacity projects. It also introduced two new programs through which DART could apply for federal review assistance, including the Program of Interrelated Projects and Expedited Project Delivery. DART, in fact, took an active role working with Congress and the FTA to develop both the Core Capacity Program and the Interrelated Projects program, which is designed to maximize efficiencies by taking a holistic funding approach for systems developing multiple projects to be integrated into the same system.
- What it means: DART transitioned the D2 project from a New Start Project to a Core Capacity project with the intent of advancing three projects — Platform Extensions, D2 and Central Dallas Streetcar Projects as a Program of Interrelated Projects. Further, DART responded to a call for projects for the Expedited Review and Delivery program. The Expedited Review and Delivery program was subsequently delayed by passage of the FAST Act in 2015, so DART is focusing on obtaining funding through the Core Capacity Program. FTA has not yet issued guidance for projects under the Program of Interrelated Projects.
Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act
- What it is: The FAST Act, signed into law in 2015, is the first federal law in a decade that provides long-term funding certainty for transportation projects like D2. The FAST Act established a new 60/40 cap for federal funding for New Starts projects. Additional legislation is currently being debated that would further lower the cap to 50%.
- What it means: The new funding cap established in the FAST Act has sent a signal that the federal government is likely to remain consistent with historical precedent in awarding no more than 50% matching funding to any given project. The FTA is still developing guidelines for implementing funding programs under the FAST Act, so in some ways, North Texas is moving ahead faster than the federal government. As a result, DART is trying to anticipate the likely direction from the FTA based on previous experience.
Given what we know about the current legislation, previous experience securing federal funding, and an understanding of the other projects competing for funding, DART was conservative in its federal funding request to maximize its chances of receiving the full funding amount requested.
DART believes a 50/50 funding split gives D2 the greatest likelihood of remaining competitive and ensuring that we can move forward with D2 confidently, while also allowing for other projects that are critical to the progress of North Texas’s transit system as a whole.