2017-05-26 / Columnists

Feds won’t fund SBS in 2017 Here’s why

Transit Talk
By Larry Penner

The New York City Department of Transportation recently took out a half page advertisement in the New York Post on Thursday, May 11. The advertisement contained NYCDOT’s proposed federal fiscal year 2017 capital Program of Projects which is eligible for funding under various United States Department of Transportation Federal Administration grant programs. This process offers taxpayers an opportunity to request a public hearing to comment on NYCDOT’s proposed FY 2017 USDOT FTA Program of Projects. If no one requests a public hearing, the proposed FY 2017 Program of Projects becomes final. Upon conclusion of the Public Hearing process, NYCDOT proceeds to complete submittal of proposed grant applications to USDOT FTA. Interesting to note that Phase 2 of the Woodhaven Blvd Select Bus Service at a cost of up to $391 million was not included in NYCDOT’s proposed FY 2017 USDOT Program of Projects. This implies that NYCDOT does not intend to apply for USDOT FTA New Starts funding until federal fiscal year 2018 or later.

Over time, both the cost and timetable for completion of the proposed Woodhaven Blvd. Select Bus Service project have grown. NYCDOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg testified at a NYC Council Transportation Committee meeting in 2016 that the proposed project budget had doubled growing from $200 to $400 million. She stated that completion of all work has slipped from 2019 to 2025.

There is still no guarantee for US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration New Starts funding for Phase 2 of the project. The full build project costs for Phase 2 are based upon planning initiatives with little design and engineering efforts completed to date which would validate actual construction costs. They still need to be refined as the project progresses in final design from 30 percent to 100 percent completion. The USDOT FTA completed the environmental review process in July 2015. This resulted in NYCDOT obtaining a Categorical Exclusion for the project. Depending upon future results of the ongoing public outreach process, USDOT FTA might have to revisit the environmental finding determination. NYCDOT has an obligation for reporting any significant changes in scope as a result of the ongoing pubic outreach. NYCDOT may have to update the environmental finding. Process for completing any updated environmental finding with USDOT FTA could take several months or more. This depends upon how extensive are any proposed new changes in scope. No one will really know the full project costs until construction contracts for Phase Two are awarded. This may not happen for until 2019 or later. Contract change orders during the course of construction could add to the final costs.

Finding $381 million or more is a far greater challenge than $200 million. Is funding for the local city share of this project included within Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed July 1, 2017 - June 30, 2018 budget? Successful completion of the New Starts process culminating in the federal government’s entering into a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) to guarantee $91 million toward a total project cost of $381 million averages several years. The USDOT New Starts report in 2015 referenced a federal share of $75 million against a total project cost of $231 million. The Federal request increased by $16 million to $91 million. The total project cost of $231 million may have also increased up to $381 million for Phase 2. There can be no FFGA without documentation that the local recipients share is in place. The only logical proof would be inclusion as a line item buried some place in the proposed new budget. There are no federal dollars programmed in the Annual Report on Funding, Recommendations Federal Fiscal Year 2017 Capital Investment Program. The current available federal project profile coming from this same report says “The scope and cost of the project is currently being assessed by the project sponsor. Future milestone dates will be determined after the project sponsor’s review is complete.” Has the project been given permission by USDOT FTA to advance to the next stage known as “final engineering”? We will have to wait until some this summer for the Federal Fiscal Year 2018 Capital Investment Program report to come out. NYCDOT claimed in 2016 that they did not need access to these federal funds until 2017.

Today, it appears the project costs have almost doubled. There is good reason for concern by both taxpayers and riders as to the real cost. All of the above will be challenging to obtain. This will depend upon the length of continued delays in the progress of development for Phase 2 of the project. Over the next several years, other projects which are closer to being shovel ready may be given preference for increasingly scarce federal New Starts funding.

The MTA has successfully used the New Starts program to obtain billions from Uncle Sam to fund both the LIRR East Side Access project and NYC Transit Second Avenue subway. The NYCDOT proposal to fund construction of the Woodhaven SBS will be directly competing against the MTA NYCT proposal to fund the second phase of Second Avenue subway ($6 billion) and many others. It could also end up competing against Governor Cuomo’s proposed one seat ride to Kennedy Airport (who knows how many billions) and restoration of LIRR service on the old Rockaway Beach branch ($1 billion).

There are dozens of other potential New Starts projects being championed by many other senators and Congress members. The requests far exceed any available New Starts funding. There will be fewer winners and many more losers. Is Mayor de Blasio committed to proceed with the Woodhaven SBS project if federal assistance isn’t secured? He has pledged $295 million to support development and implementation of 13 new SBS/BRT systems. Will he reallocate funding from other SBS/BRT projects to support increased costs for Woodhaven Blvd. SBS? Are these dollars 100 percent city or is he counting on a combination of MTA, state and or federal resources? NYCDOT must guarantee local share of up to $290 million against a potential total cost of up to $381 million as part of any New Starts grant application looking for $91 million in USDOT FTA funding. This is based upon a potential total cost of $381 million for Phase 2 of Woodhaven SBS. Has Mayor de Blasio included up to $290 million in his proposed municipal July 1, 2017 - June 30, 2018 $84 billion budget?

Since Phase 1 is estimated to cost $19 million, NYCDOT may need up to $381 million or more in secure funding to be in place before proceeding with advertising and award of Phase 2 construction contracts. This is necessary before the Woodhaven Blvd. SBS project can proceed into the full scope. How will NYCDOT scope of work and procurements be coordinated with the MTA NYC Transit and MTA Bus? How many procurements will be required for construction of exclusive BRT bus lanes, new bus stops with shelters, off board fare collection system, customer information system, transit priority signal priority improvements, modifications to existing buses, potential purchase of new buses to support increased ridership, engineering construction management firms to assist in project oversight and other project components? What are the estimated costs for each project component? This is what comprises the full cost. Who will manage each of the multiple procurements - NYCDOT or MTA?

Does NYCDOT continue to have the technical capacity (staff or consultants) to successfully implement this complex project along with 12 other ongoing SBS projects around NYC?

What is the detailed project budget, implementation schedule with multiple interim milestones for each activity and fully secure funding source(s) available to date to justify the estimated budget? Will the delayed construction start date of 2017 for Phase 1 still be achieved? This is based upon a scope of work far less complex. A construction start date of 2019 or later for Phase 2 will be more challenging given the more complex nature of work and multiple contracts. Remember that NYCDOT Commissioner Trottenberg said completion of the total project may take until 2025.

Taxpayers, commuters, transit advocates, elected officials and media have to ask if potentially waiting nine more years until 2025 before boarding the full Woodhaven Blvd. SBS is worth the fare.

Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.

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Stop all your fight against

Stop all your fight against sbs bus service your friend the wave always gives you a big say againts sbs bus service that farrockaway and the people of color need and you need it also if you really want tourism the coalition of the rockaways bruce jacobs will debate you on this issue a.nytime i was in transportation for 33 years dont hide behind the editor of the wave debate me i bet your to scared to do that

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