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New opportunities, challenges for transit funding under MAP-21

Last summer the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) bill was passed into law, changing the way that transportation infrastructure is funded, as well as the role of the federal funding in local public transit projects. For fiscal year 2013, $10.6 billion has been authorized for federal transit assistance.

sprinterOne way for transit agencies and local governments to stretch their budgets under the new legislation is through “self-help” initiatives and other efforts to generate funds locally that match the federal dollars received – and there is a high potential for success with this strategy. Both state and local ballot initiatives for transportation funding have seen a success rate hovering around 70 percent over the last few years. Even with the lingering effects of the recession, voters have supported tax increases that support transit. In addition, the Transportation Investments Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) received a boost under MAP-21 to $750 million for 2013, further supporting transit projects that are taking the it upon themselves to seek new funding sources and innovative financing programs.

Public transit has always faced stiff competition from roadway projects when trying for federal funding, and MAP-21 reiterates this challenge. However, there is a noticeable shift in the language and priorities of this new transportation legislation that makes the nation’s changing transportation preferences more evident than ever. The old adage that “highways pay for themselves while transit doesn’t” is being challenged by a struggling economy, an outdated gas tax that can no longer keep up with more fuel-efficient vehicles and a crumbling infrastructure, and a very real and growing public support for transit.

Source:  Cliff Henke, Metro Magazine – February/March 2013, Volume 109 #2

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