Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Senate Bill Aims to Enhance Rural Transit

The season of SAFETEA-LU reauthorization is beginning. This highway and transportation authorization expires September 30, 2009.

One of the bills recently introduced as part of possible amendments to the current transit program is S. 1144, the "Rural Transit Improvement and Flexibility Act of 2009," sponsored by Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID).

This bill would call for three changes affecting public transit in rural areas:

  • Allocating more of FTA Section 5311 rural transit funds based on states' land area, and less on the basis of states' rural population (this would benefit states, primarily in the western US, with large land areas, at the expense of states with high rural populations and not as much land area, such as the New England states)
  • Allowing all states to use up to 25 percent of their FTA Section 5310 allocations for operating assistance (at a 50 percent federal share), with a higher proportion of Section 5310 operating assistance eligibility for states with large rural land areas (this would apply to all states, with greater level of possible operating assistance availability in certain western US states, but no states would gain or lose funding under this provision).
  • Authorizing a pilot program to support multi-modal transit centers in rural and small-urban areas, but only in states with population densities of 100 persons per square mile or less. This program would be authorized at $25 million in FY 2010, and at $50 million in FY 2011 through 2015.

It is not expected this bill will be passed on its own in the current session of Congress. More likelly, the sponsors are championing a concept they hope to see included in SAFETEA-LU reauthorization this year.

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