Defining Federal Legislative Priorities
Federal funding is vital to transit growth and maintenance
For more than a year, I have helped lead committees crafting the American Public Transportation Association's recommendations to Congress. In short, APTA advocates for funding valued at $100.4 billion over six years for Federal Transit Administration programs. This amount considers the total annual financial needs of all transit properties and meets the portion historically covered by the federal surface transportation program.
It has been a decade since we had a six-year reauthorization bill, and interim funding has been unpredictable and short-term.
Predictable, long-term funding allows agencies and local governments to make long-range plans and major capital investments to:
As a result, former Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff often cites DART as an example of agencies who maximize federal support:
Transit is more than ridership. Where public transportation goes, community grows. The investment in DART has created jobs, formed new communities, made commuting more convenient and forged new tools for fighting our air quality challenges. Our region is more globally competitive today and we've established the base to be competitive through the rest of this century.
Across the nation, and here at home, the demand for public transportation is on the rise. Our nation's leaders can build on that, and the federal government must make a meaningful investment into building and maintaining the transit infrastructure.
Randall D. Chrisman
Maintain a State of Good RepairAs DART continues maturing as a transit operator, a significant portion of the agency's expenses will shift to the maintenance and replacement of infrastructure and vehicles. In fact, approximately 73 percent of DART's capital spending over the next 20 years is dedicated to state-of-good-repair projects and reserves.
Board policy mandates that DART balance the expenses of operations, asset management and capital expansion in the 20-Year Financial Plan. Even in tough economic times, the board and staff prioritize funding for state-of-good-repair projects ahead of growth initiatives.
In the enactment of MAP-21 in 2012, the federal government identified the need for such sound financial planning and asset management practices throughout the transit industry. The Federal Transit Administration estimated in its 2010 National State of Good Repair Assessment that the nation's transit systems have a state-of-good-repair backlog of almost $78 billion in deferred maintenance and replacement needs.
DART has worked diligently with the FTA, other key transportation authorities and the American Public Transportation Administration to craft national guidelines for this federal policy based substantially on the practices DART has employed since its inception in 1983.
MAP-21 also created a specific "State of Good Repair" grant program to help fund this mandate. DART and APTA both recommend the continuation and growth of the program in the next funding authorization.
Make permanent the Transit Commuter Tax BenefitDART supports federal legislation that creates permanent parity in the tax benefit for people who use public transportation and those who drive and park their vehicle at work. On Jan. 1, 2014, the nation's tax code reverted to a policy that allows commuters who take public transportation to set aside only $130 per month pre-tax. Meanwhile, those who drive and park may set aside up to $250 per month tax-free for parking costs. Before Jan. 1, the tax benefit had been equal for both at the higher rate.
The commuter tax benefit should encourage - not discourage - people from taking the subway, bus, trolley, train or vanpool. Expanding the use of public transit reduces traffic, air pollution and the overall demand for parking while improving mobility on our nation's highways. Employers decrease their payroll taxes, freeing capital that can be reinvested in more workers, additional benefits and business growth.
Replace rail in the Dallas Central Business DistrictAll four DART Light Rail lines converge through the transitway mall in the downtown Dallas Central Business District (CBD). Track conditions have deteriorated more quickly than anticipated and the heavy volume of trains has caused wear and tear sufficient to warrant track replacement.
In the next two years, DART must replace 1.25 miles of rail through the CBD at a cost of nearly $50 million. Funding has been provided within the FY 2014 Budget and 20-Year Financial Plan.
If additional funding of $16 million is identified, the project may incorporate two sets of double-crossover tracks. A double crossover would allow trains to move around an incident or track blockage, reducing systemwide delays and the need for bus bridges. These tracks also provide greater operational flexibility once a second rail alignment is built through downtown.
Restore the Alternative Fuels Tax CreditDART supports federal legislation that indefinitely restores the alternative fuels tax credit, which expired Dec. 31, 2013.
This tax credit is a powerful incentive for public transportation agencies to adopt alternative fuel programs and an important source of revenue for those that utilize natural gas for a portion or all of their fleet fueling needs.
DART is in the midst of a five-year program to transition its entire bus fleet to vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas, which will lower vehicle emissions and contribute to cleaner air. The agency locked a hedge on natural gas prices through 2020 from the Texas General Land Office, creating jobs and generating economic activity by purchasing fuel produced in the North Texas region.
These tax credits mean several million dollars to DART for FY 2014 and beyond. This provision offsets alternative fueling costs, freeing revenue to be invested in asset maintenance and other capital projects. As an added benefit, transit properties like DART are encouraged to limit dependence on foreign fuel and use resources that both reduce carbon emissions and are found in the U.S.
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