Thursday, January 12, 2012

Federal Transit Administration Shows Grantees the Money

If you're a grantee of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), there's one Federal Register notice you probably await more than any other. That would be the annual list of FTA's apportionments and allocations. With Pres. Obama having signed the FY 2012 transportation appropriations into law on November 18, those who depend on FTA formula grants have been waiting with bated breath for this year's announcement, which was published in the January 11, 2012, Federal Register.

This year's notice runs 71 pages in length, most of which is taken up in tables showing allocations of FTA's various formula-based grants to states and urbanized areas, along with a healthy dose of other useful and important information. Although no substitution for reading the notice yourself, here are a few interesting aspects to this year's apportionments notice:

1. It's not a full-year apportionment. Because current transportation authorizations expire March 31, 2012, FTA is able to allocate only half of the funds derived from the federal Mass Transit Account. Depending on what actions Congress and the President take this spring (more extensions? reauthorization?), it's reasonable to expect one or more similar notices later this year, making the rest of FTA's funds available....once authorized.

2. FTA is giving a "heads up" on forthcoming discretionary grant competitions. Now that Congress largely has given up the process of "earmarking" specific projects in appropriations bills, FTA, like other federal agencies, has more money available for discretionary grants of its own design and determination (subject, of course, to federal authorizations). So, in this year's apportionments notice, FTA indicates that there soon will be national competitions for (a) "State of Good Repair" bus & bus facility grants ($650 million expected to be available, solicitation of applications likely to be announced later this month), (b) "Livability" bus & bus facility grants ($125 million expected to be available, solicitation to be announced later this month), and (c) "Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative" bus & bus facility grants ($25 million expected, solicitation to be announced later this month). FTA also gives the heads up for this year's rounds of some other discretionary grant competitions: Section 5308 Clean Fuels bus grants ($51.5 million to be available, solicitation  to be announced later this month), Section 5339 Alternatives Analysis grants ($25.0 million to be available, solicitation likely to be announced in February), Section 5311(c) tribal transit grants ($15.0 million to be available, solicitation to be announced in February), and Section 3038 over-the-road-bus accessibility grants ($8.8 million to be available, solicitation anticipated in March).

3. FTA continues to use 2000 population data. The Census Bureau is still in the process of analyzing 2010 census data to identify urbanized areas, their populations, etc. Until these data are released, FTA has to continue relying on 2000 data for the population, population density, and other demographic factors in its funding formulas. Once released, these data may lead to significant changes in the distribution of Section 5307, 5311, 5316 and 5317 funds as places find their urbanized area status categorized differently under the 2010 census. To help prepare for these changes, FTA has launched a "Census and FTA Formula Grants" page on its website, which is in the process of being populated with useful, explanatory information.

Therefore, it seems reasonable to say that this 71-page document leaves FTA grantees with a couple of immediate assignments. For one, all current recipients of FTA formula grants know what steps they need to follow next as a result of the apportionments notices. Second, those who are considering the FTA State of Good Repair, Livability, or Veterans grants should begin doing some background research, as FTA has indicated these solicitations will hit the airwaves in the next few weeks, and will have fairly quick application deadlines.

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