BRT project rating comes with some changes

BRT project rating comes with some changes

On Monday the chief executive officer of the Port Authority announced that the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project from Oakland to downtown Pittsburgh received its second “high” rating under the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)’s Small Starts program.  The ratings were awarded in November of both 2017 and 2018.

Despite the rating it is unclear whether the project will be funded by the federal budget and  not clear when the project would begin operations if the funding came through.  An authority spokesman said “I think we had unrealistic expectations about how this would be rolling out” based on when the project was announced two years ago.  Our 2014 blog found that many BRT projects took about four years from final submission to approval.  In the FTA’s November 2017 rating it stated the “opening year” would be 2020–that has now been pushed to 2021 in the rating from last November.

While the overall price tag for the project has not changed from $195.5 million with the same percentage shares from federal, state and local sources, the composition of money from the commonwealth has changed.  The $32.5 million in funding was mainly to come from the state capital budget ($22.5 million) with state bonds ($3.4 million), state general funds ($2.8 million), PennDOT Multimodal fund ($2.2 million) and sales tax ($1.5 million) filling out the remainder.

In the November 2018 rating document the capital budget reference is gone, and now the multimodal fund and the state sales tax shares have gone up considerably to $15 million and $10.6 million, respectively.  State bonds and state general funds are the same dollar amount and now a grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development ($0.7 million) rounds out the total.  The boost in funding from the multimodal fund is quite surprising given the fact that a lawsuit over turnpike funding filed by a truckers’ association could obliterate the funding scheme put together under Act 44 to use turnpike revenues for non-turnpike projects.