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CAMPO authorizes federal transit funding for seniors, individuals with disabilities

Friday, January 15, 2021 by Harrison Young

On Monday, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board unanimously approved new transportation funding criteria for senior citizens and individuals with disabilities using funds from the Federal Transit Administration, amid growing competition.

FTA Section 5310 is a federal program that grants money to local transportation programs that increase mobility options and improve transportation system efficiency for those populations.

“The 5310 program has become highly competitive over the past several years, which is part of the reason we did a criteria update,” Ryan Collins, CAMPO’s short-range planning manager, said in an email to the Austin Monitor. He said CAMPO typically receives twice as many funding requests for available funding.

Austin and the surrounding area receives around $1 million annually in 5310 funds, according to Collins.

Capital Metro, Austin’s transit provider, makes the official request to the FTA and is the designated recipient for 5310 funding, but project selection is delegated to CAMPO.

A project readiness screening was added to the list of selection requirements. The process needs a detailed budget and well-maintained relationships with FTA and Capital Metro.

The project call timeline was shifted from every year to every two years, giving grantees more breathing room to square away plans and budgets before the next project call. This change also releases funding for two years instead of one year.

A new project call will be issued within a few months based on the new criteria.

To select projects, several categories are developed by CAMPO and given a number of points they can receive, all totaling 100 points. Various committees review each proposal and give them a score, which are then averaged together and ranked highest to lowest.

Funds are disbursed starting with the highest-ranked project, then each project after until funds are exhausted.

Program Experience, a new criteria category, examines applicants’ previous experience with FTA 5310 or other federal programs, allowing easier work based on familiarity with the process.

The Regional Transit Coordination Committee’s plan gained more weight in the scoring system. The RTCC aims to provide ease of access to necessities like health care, employment and education.

Performance Measuring and Monitoring was added to the list, ensuring that CAMPO can report ridership and other metrics to the federal government to satisfy performance-based requirements.

Points were redistributed from the Cost-Benefit Analysis category to the Benefit category. Cost-Benefit Analysis is quantitative, while Benefit is qualitative, according to CAMPO. Both sections are now equally weighted.

Total grant amounts from FTA 5310 are steadily increasing. In 2015, $264 million was doled out nationwide, rising to $289 million in 2020.

Fifty-five percent of funds must be used for “traditional” 5310 projects, such as buses and vans, ramps and wheelchair lifts. The remaining 45 percent is used for “non-traditional” projects like accessible paths, improved signage and ride-sharing or vanpooling.

Rural areas, small urban areas and governmental bodies that operate programs for seniors and people with disabilities are all eligible recipients of 5310 backing. The governor can designate specific recipients in large urban areas.

The FAST Act, which stands for Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, governs Section 5310. Designed to last through Fiscal Year 2020, a one-year extension of the act was approved in September last year.

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