The RAMPO Board took action to reallocate $3.12 million in stimulus
funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)
towards the purchase of eight buses for GRTC, or seven buses running on
compressed natural gas instead of diesel.
The Board voted to amend the
Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) so that surplus stimulus funds
remaining from the Region’s ARRA projects would be directed to
purchasing the buses as part of GRTC’s replacement program. The funds
were available after bids on three projects, to which RAMPO previously
allocated ARRA funds, came in lower than expected.
The quick action by the RAMPO Board will
allow the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Virginia
Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) to work with the
Commonwealth Transportation Board and Governor McDonnell to re-obligate
the funds before the September 30 federal deadline.
the buses was the second recommendation of RAMPO staff after the initial
recommendation to allocate the funds to the preliminary engineering (PE)
work on rail projects around Acca Yard was deemed ineligible.
Representatives from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
explained that the ARRA stimulus funds must be part of an entire
project, and not just the PE phase. The Acca Yard PE work was not
eligible a stand alone ARRA project.
The board also asked FHWA if, in the
future, the MPO could re-allocate non-stimulus surplus RSTP funds to
rail projects. FHWA said that while existing agreements between FHWA and
the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) make it easy to fl ex FHWA
stimulus funds to FTA projects, a similar agreement is not in place
between FHWA and the Federal Rail Administration (FRA).
One MPO member expressed the apparent
tension at the table and asked, “What do we have to do to make sure that
in the future we can flex highway dollars into rail projects if we, as
an MPO, choose to do so?”
Accordingly, the MPO unanimously
directed staff to prepare a letter to the U.S. Secretary of
Transportation and the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Transportation
expressing concern that such an agreement has yet to be established
between FHWA and FRA.
Despite the Board’s dismay with the
limits on its ability to utilize the surplus funds for rail
improvements, the members were pleased to provide replacement buses for
the GRTC Transit System.