By Steve Hymon, February 26, 2014
Earlier today in Minnesota, President Obama announced his proposal
for a four-year transportation spending bill that would include both
parts of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative. If Congress was to
vote the bill into law — and that’s a big ‘if’ — that could be a boon to
Metro and other transit agencies around the nation that would have new
financial tools to use when building big, pricey transportation
America Fast Forward includes two components. The first is a
federally-backed loan program called TIFIA that is designed to give
agencies access to loans with interest rates lower than can be found on
the open market.
The second part is a bond program described in the graphic below. In a
nutshell: those who invest in transportation bonds receive federal tax
credits instead of interest, a good way for investors to lower their tax
burden and a good way for transportation agencies to save on interest
The hope at Metro is to potentially use a combination of TIFIA loans,
America Fast Forward bonds, some federal New Starts money (New Starts
is a grant program in which the federal government matches local funds
to help build big projects) and Measure R tax revenues to accelerate
transit projects — in particular the second- and third-decade Measure R
projects. Some of those projects: an extension of the Eastside Gold
Line, the Airport Metro Connector, the South Bay Green Line Extension
and the second and third phases of the Purple Line Extension.
Of course, it should be noted that President Obama’s bill proposal is
just that — a proposal. Transportation bills are designed to guide
spending over several years but they have been contentious in Congress
in recent years. A four-year bill that expired in 2009 was temporarily
extended more than 10 times before Congress in 2012 voted to approve a
new two-year bill, which expires at the end of September.
So we’ll see — getting bills approved by Congress is never an easy
task. Nonetheless, the fact that President Obama has included both parts
of America Fast Forward into his proposal is good news for Metro and
officials I spoke with here today expressed their extreme gratitude for
the President’s recognition of the program.
Click here to see the entire bill proposal on the White House website.