I’m from the Government, and I’m Here to Help You

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of posts about the development of Capital Metro’s FY2012 budget. You can get involved with the process by voting on ideas and sharing your own on the icanmakeitbetter online forum, or checking out the resources available on capmetro.org.

One of Capital Metro’s most important funding sources is funding from the federal government which we receive in the form of grants, usually through the Federal Transit Administration.

One program, called the 5307 Urbanized Area Formula Program, provides us with an annual grant as part of a national program that distributes federal aid to transit agencies. The grant program is one of our largest and most consistent sources of funding. As the name implies, the funding is distributed to cities and surrounding areas based on a formula that weighs population and other factors. This year we’ll receive a little over $20 million under this grant, accounting for a little more than 10% of our operating budget.

Beyond its size, the 5307 grant is important because Cap Metro can use it both for capital projects, like buying and maintaining buses, and also for some specific operating costs like paying the companies we contract with to help provide our services. As I am sure you can imagine, since this is the federal government, a big part of the program is keeping up with the paperwork, and that task keeps our federal funding expert busy pretty much all of his work day. There always are reports to file and new grant applications to be completed.

Capital Metro also receives several other types of federal grants. In 2009, in the wake of the national recession, for example, many public agencies, including Cap Metro, received what has come to be known in the media as federal stimulus funding. Under the stimulus program, actually the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the federal government made grants to state and local agencies for a wide range of capital projects—remember all the talk in the news about “shovel-ready” projects?

We received about $26 million in stimulus funds, which we mainly used to modernize our bus fleet; however, we also have used some of the funds for our “Rails with Trails” program. Most public agencies have now used up their ARRA funds, and we are no exception. We have about $1.8 million left for “Rails with Trails,” but we do have some very fine buses to show for our federal dollars.

Let me note one final point about federal funds. Our federal funding is subject to the federal budget gyrations you often hear about on the news. The federal government has its own financial issues, and so we closely monitor what’s going with transit programs, planning both for how to use the federal aid we receive and for what to do if it doesn’t come through. Hey, it’s Uncle Sam. It comes with the territory.

7 thoughts on “I’m from the Government, and I’m Here to Help You

  1. Misty

    Erik, the Rails with Trails program is a part of Capital Metro’s All Systems Go Long Range Transit Plan. Back in 2004 when the plan was being developed, the community encouraged Capital Metro to include bike and pedestrian trails along rail lines. Thanks to assistance from the ARRA, Capital Metro is planning to build a ten foot wide concrete bike/pedestrian trail along the west side Airport Boulevard in the City of Austin street right of way. The new route starts at Crestview Station and runs south along Airport Blvd to Highland Station at Dresden Lane. This route will improve connectivity to our rail stations and our bus stops on Lamar and Airport from the adjacent neighborhoods. We are projecting the completion of construction by October 2012.

    1. erik

      What exactly is the “problem” that this project would solve? $1.8 million to install a slab of concrete between two stations that are a) only 0.7 miles apart and b) already have an existing sidewalk (and bike lane) installed. Doesn’t that seem absurdly redundant and wasteful? Explain to me why this is a critical project given our budget limitations.

  2. Matt

    Why don’t we get updates from the Rails with Trails plan more often? Has there been more progress on other segments of the trail? Any progress on acquiring land or permission to build along the side of the athletic fields north/northwest of Crestview station?

  3. erik – the bike infrastructure extant on that stetch of Airport leaves much to be desired. This project will bring the bike infrastructure off-street, making it easier for cylcists of all levels to connect to two major transit facilities. $1.8 Million will not be spent on a slab of concrete alone. The project includes several infratructure improvements and amenities which will enhance bike/ped connections in the area. It has also paid for a detailed survey of the entire MetroRail corridor right of way, which will facilitate future development of of MetroTrail segments. If any funds remain after construction of this segment (likely) they could possibly be utilized on other bike infrastructure in the vicinity to connect neighborhoods to transit. Matt – an update on the MetroTrail project status will be presented to our Board of Directors at their August meeting. Ill post a link to the presentation shortly thereafter. Also, we will visit meetings of the adjacent neighborhoods to provide a status update, as well as other key stakeholder groups within the cycling community in the next several weeks. Many thanks for your interest – jmvc

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