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CAMPO approves process to refund transit projects

Wednesday, February 10, 2021 by Harrison Young

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board voted unanimously Monday to approve a prioritization process to refund deferred projects using Surface Transportation Block Grant funds, also known as Category 7.

Some plans were postponed in June so that funds could be reallocated to the I-35 Capital Express project, with the intention to refund them as resources became available.

CAMPO developed this process ahead of those extra resources to more accurately prioritize how and when those projects are refunded. Similar to a project call, which rounds up all transit work proposals in the region, CAMPO must make sure that the projects are able to use the funds quickly and are eligible for the federal program.

“It’s really a simplified process,” Ryan Collins, CAMPO’s short-range planning manager, said.

Funding is the first criteria in the process. This step determines the initial list of projects for consideration by examining how much STBG funding is available and the plans’ eligibility for the money.

The next step, coordination, decides interest and availability of funding from potential sponsors of the project. This is also where CAMPO will fully update the list of projects that need funding.

Readiness is based on the Texas Department of Transportation’s Project Development Process, a ready-made tool for local governments to determine the viability of transportation plans. This step also looks at the proposal’s development status, potential changes or obstacles, and OKs the proposal’s funding requests.

“Readiness is really what’s going to determine which projects get refunded first,” Collins said.

Part of this stage is a multi-step project development process that includes milestones such as preliminary engineering, environmental studies and right-of-way acquisition. Sponsors can complete these early steps prior to readiness review.

CAMPO receives STBG funding from the federal government each fiscal year that’s used to finance these projects. If the projects in one fiscal year go over budget, they will be prioritized based on their evaluation scores.

In the final step, projects are scored based on their likely start date and on criteria from the readiness evaluation step. Since these projects were given scores in the initial selection process, those numbers are taken into account as well.

The Federal Transit Administration awards the Surface Transportation Block Grant every year to support highways, transit systems, bikeways and other forms of surface transportation. CAMPO projects how much it will receive based on historical precedent and on the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation), which governs STBG funds. Designed to last through Fiscal Year 2020, a one-year extension of the act was approved in September of last year. The act allows the federal government to partner with local governments to install or fix transit systems.

The I-35 Capital Express project aims to build onto Interstate 35 from Highway 45 North through downtown Austin, ending at Highway 45 Southeast. The proposal calls for extra lanes, reconstruction of bridges and installation of pedestrian and bike paths. It’s split into categories of North, Central and South and will cost an estimated $5.6 billion.

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